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Author: Joseph Alexander

Joseph Addison Alexander

Joseph Addison Alexander (April 24, 1809 - January 28, 1860) was an American clergyman and biblical scholar. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 24, 1809, the third son of Archibald Alexander and Janetta Waddel Alexander, brother to James Waddel Alexander and William Cowper Alexander. He graduated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) with the first honor, in the class of 1826, having devoted himself especially to the study of Hebrew and other languages.

He thereupon, in connection with Robert Bridges Patton, established Edgehill seminary at Mercer County, New Jersey, and in 1830 he was made adjunct professor of ancient languages in Princeton College, holding the professorship until 1833. In 1834, he became an assistant to Dr. Charles Hodge, professor of oriental and biblical literature in the Princeton Theological Seminary, and in 1838, he became associate professor of oriental and biblical literature there, succeeding Dr. Hodge in that chair in 1840 and being transferred in 1851 to the chair of biblical and ecclesiastical history, and in 1859 to that of Hellenistic and New Testament literature, which he occupied until his death at Princeton on January 28, 1860.

Alexander was distinguished in Oriental scholarship as well as in biblical learning, and was a thorough master of the modern European languages. He had been ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1839, and was well known for his pulpit eloquence. He was the author of The Earlier Prophecies of Isaiah (1846), The Later Prophecies of Isaiah (1847), and an abbreviation of these two volumes, Isaiah Illustrated and Explained (2 vols., 1851), The Psalms Translated and Explained (3 vols., 1850), Commentary on Acts (2 vols., 1857) and Commentary on Mark (1858). After his death there appeared his two volumes of Sermons (1860), Commentary on Matthew (1861) and Notes on New Testament Literature (1861).[1] Henry Carrington Alexander prepared a biography first published in 1869.

He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1845.


Psalm 19

Psalm 19

“To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19, AV)

This psalm consists of three parts. The subject of the first is God’s revelation of himself in his material works, ver. 2–7 (1–6). That of the second is the still more glorious revelation of himself in his law, ver. 8–11 (7–10). The third shews the bearing of these truths upon the personal character and interest of the writer, and of all who are partakers of his faith, ver. 12–15 (11–14).

The object of the psalm is not to contrast the moral and material revelations, but rather to identify their author and their subject. The doctrinal sum of the whole composition is, that the same God who reared the frame of nature is the giver of a law, and that this law is in all respects worthy of its author.

1. To the Chief Musician, a Psalm by David. The form of this inscription is the same as that of Ps. 13. Its historical correctness is attested by its position in the Psalter, its resemblance to Ps. 8, and its peculiar style and spirit.

2 (1). The heavens (are) telling the glory of God, and the work of his hands (is) the firmament declaring. The participles are expressive of continued action. The glory of God is the sum of his revealed perfections (compare Ps. 24:7–10, 29:3, Rom. 1:20. The expanse or firmament is used as an equivalent to heaven, even in the history of the creation, Gen. 1:8. To declare the work of his hands is to shew what he can do and has actually done. The common version handywork means nothing more than handwork; to take handy as an epithet of praise is a vulgar error.

3 (2). Day to day shall pour out speech, and night to night shall utter knowledge. Both verbs are peculiar to the poetical dialect and books of the Old Testament. Pour out, in a copious ever-gushing stream. As the participles of ver. 2 (1) express constant action, so the futures here imply continuance in all time to come. Speech means the declaration of God’s glory, and knowledge the knowledge of the same great object. The idea of perpetual testimony is conveyed by the figure of one day and night following another as witnesses in unbroken succession.

4 (3). There is no speech, and there are no words; not at all is their voice heard. As the first clause might have seemed to contradict the first clause of ver. 3 (2), the Psalmist adds no words, to shew that he here uses speech in the strict sense of articulate language.—The first word of the last clause is properly a noun, meaning cessation or defect, non-entity, and here used as a more emphatic negative, expressed in the translation by the phrase not at all.—Their voice might either be referred exclusively to the heaven and firmament of ver. 2 (1), or extended to the day and night of ver. 3 (2). But the first is the true construction, as appears from the next verse. The absence of articulate language, far from weakening the testimony, makes it stronger. Even without speech or words, the heavens testify of God to all men. This construction of the sentence is much simpler, as well as more exact, than the ancient one, retained in the common version, “there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard,” or that preferred by others, “it is not a speech or language whose voice is not heard.” The true sense is given in the margin of the English Bible.

5 (4.) In all the earth has gone out their line, and in the end of the world (are) their words. For the sun he has pitched a tent in them. The word rendered line always means a measuring line, and in Jer. 31:39 is combined in that sense with the same verb as here. The idea is, that their province or domain is co-extensive with the earth, and that they speak with authority even in its remotest parts.—Words may also be construed with the verb of the first clause, but it will then be necessary to translate the preposition to. The explanation of line as meaning the string of a musical instrument, and then the sound which it produces, although favoured by the ancient versions, is entirely at variance with Hebrew usage. The subject of the verb in the last clause is the name of God expressed in ver. 2 (1) above.—Pitched a tent, provided a dwelling, or without a figure, assigned a place. In them must refer to the heavens mentioned in ver. 2 (1), which makes it probable that all the plural pronouns in the intervening clauses have the same antecedent. The sun is introduced in this sentence probably because his apparent course is a measure of the wide domain described in the first clause. It must be co-extensive with the earth, because the sun which visits the whole earth has his habitation in the sky. The boundless extension of the heavens and their testimony is used by Paul (Rom. 10:18) to signify the general diffusion of the gospel, and the same thing might have taught the earlier Jews that their exclusive privileges were granted only for a time, and as a means to a more glorious end.

6 (5). And he (is) as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; he rejoices as a mighty man to run a race. The second simile has reference to the sun’s daily course, the first to his vigorous and cheerful reappearance after the darkness of the night. By a fine transition, the general idea of a tent or dwelling is here exchanged for the specific one of a nuptial couch or chamber. Rejoices, literally will rejoice, forever as he now does.

7 (6). From the end of the heavens (is) his outgoing, and his circuit even to the ends of them, and there is none (or nothing) hidden from his heat. What is said in ver. 5 (4) of the heavens is here said of the sun, to wit, that his domain is coextensive with the earth or habitable world. The last clause is added to shew that it is not an ineffective presence, but one to be felt as well as seen. The sun’s heat is mentioned, not in contrast with his light, but as its inseparable adjunct.—The plural ends seems to be added to the singular in order to exhaust the meaning, or at least to strengthen the expression. The word translated circuit includes the idea of return to a starting-point. The Hebrew preposition properly means up to (or down to) their very extremity.

8 (7). The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The God, whose glory is thus shewn forth by the material creation, is the author of a spiritual law, which the Psalmist now describes in the next three verses, by six characteristic names, six qualifying epithets, and six moral effects produced by it. In the verse before us, besides the usual term law, it is called God’s testimony, i.e. the testimony which he bears for truth and against iniquity. It is described as perfect, i.e. free from all defect or blemish, and as sure, i.e. definite, decided, and infallible. Its two effects, mentioned in this verse. are, first, that of restoring the soul, i.e. the life and spirits exhausted by calamity. See below, on Ps. 23:3, and compare Ruth. 4:15, Lam. 1:11, 16. The effect of converting the soul would not have been attributed to the law in this connection, where the writer is describing the affections cherished towards the law by men already converted, which removes all apparent inconsistency with Paul’s representation of the law as working death, and at the same time the necessity of making the law mean the gospel, or in any other way departing from the obvious and usual import of the Hebrew word. The other effect ascribed to the law is that of making wise the simple, not the foolish, in the strong sense in which that term is applied to the ungodly—see above, on Ps. 14:1—but those imperfectly enlightened and still needing spiritual guidance, a description applicable, more or less, to all believers. It is a singular fact, that while this usage of the Hebrew word is peculiar to David, Solomon constantly applies it to the culpable simplicity of unconverted men. (See Ps. 116:6, 119:130, Prov. 1:22, 7:7, 9:4, 14:15, &c.)—In like manner Paul describes the “sacred scriptures” as able to make wise unto salvation, 2 Tim. 3:15.

9 (8). The statutes of Jehovah (are) right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The words translated statute and commandment differ very slightly from each other, the one expressing more distinctly the idea of a charge or commission, the other that of a prescription or direction. There is also no great difference between the epithets applied in this verse to the law of God, which is right, as being an exact expression of his rectitude, and pure, as being free from all taint of injustice or iniquity. The first effect described is that of rejoicing the heart, to wit, the heart loving righteousness, and consequently desirous of knowing what is right by knowing what is acceptable to God, and what required by him. The other effect, enlightening the eyes, is understood by some of intellectual illumination with respect to spiritual things. But it is more agreeable to Hebrew usage to suppose an allusion to the dimness of the eyes produced by extreme weakness and approaching death, recovery from which is figuratively represented as an enlightening of the eyes. See above, on Ps. 13:4 (3), and compare Ps. 34:6 (5). The figure, thus explained, bears a strong resemblance to restoring the soul in the preceding verse, the one referring rather to the sense, and the other to the life itself.

10 (9). The fear of Jehovah is clean, standing for ever; the judgments of Jehovah are truth, they are righteous altogether. As the fear of Jehovah, in its proper sense, would here be out of place, and as the law was designed to teach men how to fear the Lord (Deut. 17:19), the phrase may here be understood as a description of the law viewed in reference to this peculiar purpose, the fear of the Lord being put for that which leads or teaches men to fear him, a sense which the expression is supposed to have in several other places. See Ps. 34:12 (11), Prov. 1:29, 2:5, 15:33.—Standing forever, of perpetual obligation. Even Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil. See Mat. 5:17, 18. With the form of expression here compare Ps. 33:11, 112:3.—Judgments are properly judicial decisions, but are here put, as in Ps. 18:23 (22), for all God’s requisitions. They are truth (itself) may be a strong expression, meaning they are perfectly and absolutely true; but as this would make the last clause little more than a tautology, the first phrase may be understood to mean that they are really that which they purport and claim to be, and therefore must be righteous altogether, i.e. all, without exception, righteous, which is tantamount, in fact, though not in form, to wholly or completely righteous.

11 (10). (Judgments) to be desired more than gold, and much fine gold; and sweeter than honey and the dropping of the combs. The description of the law of God is wound up by comparing it to the costliest and sweetest substance in common use. The sense of the passive participle is like that in Ps. 18:4 (3). Its plural form, and the article prefixed to it in Hebrew, shew that it is to be construed with judgments, and that the sentence is continued from the foregoing verse, as in Ps. 18:31 (30), 33 (32), 34 (33), 35 (34), 48 (47), 51 (50).—The Hebrew answering to fine gold is a single word (פָּז), not used in prose, and by some supposed to mean solid or massive gold, but according to a more probable etymology denoting purified or fine gold. The combination here used is found also in Ps. 119:127. See also Prov. 8:19, and compare Ps. 21:4 (3), below. To make the resemblance of the clauses perfect, the usual word for honey is followed by a beautiful periphrasis, denoting that kind which was most highly valued, The ideas expressed by both comparisons are those of value and delightfulness.—As the preceding verses describe what the law is in itself and in its general effects, so this seems to express what it is to the Psalmist’s apprehensions and affections, thus affording a transition from the comprehensive doctrines of the foregoing context to the practical and personal approbation of those doctrines, which now follows and concludes the psalm.

12 (11). Moreover, thy servant is enlightened by them; in keeping them there is much reward. The verb in the first clause is used with special reference to admonition and warning against danger. See Eccles. 4:13, Exod. 33:4, 5, 6, Eccles. 12:12. The plural suffixes have reference to judgments in ver. 10 (9) above.—Reward is here used not to signify a recompense earned in strict justice, but a gratuity bestowed. The spirit of the passage is the same as in 1 Cor. 15:19, 1 Tim. 4:8. The phrase thy servant brings the general doctrines of the foregoing context into personal application to the writer.

13 (12). Errors who shall understand? Clear thou me from hidden ones! The word translated errors is akin to one sometimes used in the Law to denote sins of inadvertence, error, or infirmity, as distinguished from deliberate, willful, and high-handed sins, such as are deprecated in the next verse. See Lev. 4:2–27, Num. 15:27. Against such sins no wisdom or vigilance can wholly guard.—The word translated clear is also borrowed from the Law, and means not so much to cleanse by renovation of the heart, as to acquit by a judicial sentence. See Exod. 34:7, Num. 14:18. Such an acquittal, in the case of sinners against God, involves the idea of a free forgiveness.

14 (13). Also from presumptuous (ones) withhold thy servant; then shall I be perfect and be clear from much transgression. As he prays for the forgiveness of his inadvertent sins, so he prays for the prevention of deliberate ones. The Hebrew word (זֵדִים) properly denotes proud men, but seems to be here applied to sins by a strong personification. The use of the verbal root and its derivatives in the Old Testament may be seen by comparing Exod. 21:14, Deut. 17:12, 18:22, 1 Sam. 17:28.—To be perfect has the same sense as in Ps. 18:24–26 (23–25). That it does not there mean sinless perfection is confirmed by the language of the verse before us.—The great transgression, as if referring to some one particular offence, is not the true sense of the Hebrew phrase, which is indefinite and perfectly analogous to that rendered much (or great) reward in ver. 12 (11) above.

15 (14). (Then) shall be for acceptance (or acceptable) the sayings of my mouth, and the thought of my heart before thee, Jehovah, my rock and my redeemer. The simplest and most obvious construction of the Hebrew sentence makes it a direct continuation of the last clause of ver. 14 (13), and like it an anticipation of the happy effects to be expected from an answer to the foregoing prayers. If his sins of ignorance could be forgiven, and the deliberate sins, to which his natural corruption prompts him, hindered by divine grace, he might hope not only to avoid much guilt but to be the object of God’s favor. As this confident anticipation really involves a wish that it may be fulfilled, there is little real difference between the construction above given and the common version: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable, &c. It is much more natural, however, to connect the words before thee with my meditation, which immediately precedes, than with the first words of the verse as in the English Bible. What I think in thy presence is then joined with the words of my mouth, to express all prayer, whether clothed in words or not. See above, on Ps. 5:2 (1). The prayer or expectation of acceptance in this clause derives peculiar beauty from the obvious allusion to the frequent use of the same Hebrew phrase (לְרָצוֹן) in the law of Moses, to denote the acceptance of the sacrificial offerings, or rather the acceptance of the offerer on account of them. See Exod. 28:38, Lev. 19:5, 7, 22:19, 20, 29, 23:11, Isa. 56:7, 60:7, Rom. 12:1. This allusion also serves to suggest the idea, not conveyed by a translation, of atonement, expiation, as the ground of the acceptance which the Psalmist hopes or prays for.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 87–92). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Psalm 18

Psalm 18

Psalm 18

“To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: And he said, I will love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire. Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them. Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils. He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay. He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me. The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me. I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight. With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright; With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward. For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks. For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness. For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall. As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him. For who is God save the LORD? or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places. He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip. I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed. I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet. For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me. Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me. They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the LORD, but he answered them not. Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets. Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou hast made me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me. The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places. The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted. It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me. He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man. Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.” (Psalm 18, AV)

This psalm consists of five unequal parts. In the first, David announces his desire to praise God for his wonderful deliverances, ver. 2–4 (1–3). In the second, these are described, not in historical form, but by the use of the strongest poetical figures, ver. 5–20 (4–19). In the third, he declares them to have been acts of righteousness as well as mercy, and in strict accordance with the general laws of the divine administration, ver. 21–28 (20–27). In the fourth, he goes again into particulars, but less in the way of recollection than of anticipation, founded both on what he has experienced and on what God has promised, ver. 29–46 (28–45). In the fifth, this change of form is accounted for by summing up the promises referred to, and applying them not merely to David as an individual, but to his posterity forever, thus including Christ, and shewing the whole composition to be one of those Messianic psalms, in which he is the principal subject of the prophecy, though not the only one, nor even the one nearest to the eye of the observer, ver. 46–51 (45–60).

1. To the Chief Musician. By a Servant of Jehovah. By David, who spake unto Jehovah the words of this song, in the day Jehovah freed him from the hand of all his foes and from the hand of Saul. The first clause of the title shews, in this as in other cases, that the composition was designed from the beginning to be used in the public worship of the ancient church, and has reference therefore to the experience of the writer, not as a private person, but as an eminent servant of the Lord, i.e. one entrusted with the execution of his purposes, as an instrument or agent. The expressions, spake unto Jehovah, &c., are borrowed from Exod. 15:1, and Deut. 31:30. This is the more observable, because the psalm contains obvious allusions to the song of Moses in Deut. ch. 32. An analogous case is found in 2 Sam. 23:1, where the form of expression is evidently borrowed from Num. 24:3.—The repetition of hand is not found in the original, where the first word (כַּף) properly denotes the palm or inside of the hand, but is poetically used as an equivalent to יָד. The hand is a common figure for power and possession. This whole clause bears a strong analogy to Exod. 18:10, where “out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh” corresponds exactly to “out of the hand of all his foes and out of the hand of Saul,” i.e. and especially of Saul. Compare “Judah and Jerusalem,” Isa. 1:1; “the land and Jericho,” Josh. 2:1. This form of expression does not imply that Saul was the last of his enemies, but rather that he was the first, both in time and in importance, so that he might be considered equal to all the others put together. And accordingly we find their idea carried out in the structure of this psalm, one half of which seems to relate especially to Saul, and the remainder to his other enemies. The general expressions of this title shew that the psalm was not occasioned by any particular event, but by a retrospect of all the deliverances from persecution which the writer had experienced.

2 (1). And said, I will love thee, Jehovah, my strength! The sentence is continued from the foregoing verse, who sang unto the Lord … and said. The future form, I will love, represents it as a permanent affection, and expresses a fixed purpose. I not only love thee now, but am resolved to do so for ever. The verb itself occurs nowhere else in its primitive form, but often in one of its derived forms, to express the compassionate regard of a superior to an inferior. The simple form is here used to denote the reciprocal affection of the inferior party. From its etymology the verb seems to express the strongest and most intimate attachment, being properly expressive of στοζγὴ, or parental love. The noun translated strength is also peculiar to this passage, though its root and cognate forms are very common. Combined with one of the divine names, it constitutes the name Hezekiah, which may have been suggested by the verse before us. My strength, i.e. the giver of my strength or the supplier of its deficiencies, the substitute for my strength, my protector and deliverer.

3 (2). Jehovah (is) my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my o (is) my rock, I will trust in him; my shield and my horn of salvation, my height (or high place). By this accumulation of descriptive epithets, the Psalmist represents God as the object of his trust and his protector. The first two figures, my rock and my fortress, contain an allusion to the physical structure of the Holy Land, as well as to David’s personal experience. The caves and fissures of the rocks, with which the land abounded, had often afforded him shelter and concealment when pursued by Saul. See Judges 6:2, 1 Sam. 24:8, 2 Sam. 5:7. The literal expression, my deliverer, seems to be added as an explanation of the figures which precede. My God may also be explained as one of the descriptive terms; but it seems more natural to make it the subject of a new proposition, equivalent and parallel to that in the first clause. Here again we are obliged to use the same English word as a translation of two different words in Hebrew. As the rock (סָלַע) of the first clause suggests the idea of concealment and security, so the rock (צוּר) of the second clause suggests that of strength and immobility. The figure is borrowed from Deut. 32:4, and reappears in Ps. 92:16 (15). Compare Isaiah’s phrase, a rock of ages (Isa. 26:4), and Jacob’s phrase, the stone of Israel (Gen. 49:24), where stone, like rock in the clause before us, denotes not the place but the material, not a stone, but stone, as one of the hardest and least mutable substances with which we are acquainted, and therefore an appropriate figure for combined immutability and strength. For the figurative use of shield in such connections, see above on Ps. 3:4 (3). The next phrase has allusion to the defensive habits of horned animals. The figure seems to be borrowed from Deut. 33:17. (Compare 1 Sam. 2:10, Job. 16:15.) My horn of salvation may be understood to mean, my horn, to wit, my salvation, so that the second noun is explanatory of the first. More probably, however, the expression means the horn that saves me, by repelling or destroying all my enemies. In Luke 1:69, the same phrase is applied to Christ by Zacharias. The last term in the description belongs to the same class with the first, and was probably suggested by the Psalmist’s early wanderings among the rocks and caverns of Judea. The Hebrew word properly denotes a place so high as to be beyond the reach of danger. See above, on Ps. 9:10 (9), where the same word is twice used in the same sense and figurative application.

4 (3). To be praised I will call Jehovah, and from my enemies I shall be saved. “I will invoke God as a being worthy of all praise.” The first Hebrew word, which has the force of a future passive participle, is a standing epithet of Jehovah in the lyrical style of the Old Testament. See Ps. 48:2 (1), 96:4, 113:3, 145:3, 1 Chron. 16:25. The connection of the clauses is, that the believing invocation of Jehovah in his true character, and with a just appreciation of his excellence, must needs be followed by the experience of his favor. They who cry and are not heard, as we read in ver. 42 (41) below, cry indeed to Jehovah, but they do not invoke him as the one to be praised, they do not see him as he is, and cannot pray to him as they ought. They ask and receive not, because they ask amiss (James 4:3).

5 (4). The bands of death have enclosed me, and the streams of worthlessness (or Belial) will (still) affright me. From the general acknowledgment contained in ver. 1–4, he proceeds to a more particular description of his danger. By bands we are probably to understand the cordage of a net, such as fowlers spread for birds. This is a favorite metaphor with David to denote dangers, and particularly those of an insidious and complicated kind. See below, Ps. 116:3. The word Belial properly means worthless, good for nothing. The reference is here to wicked men, whose number and violence are indicated by the figure of torrents, overflowing streams. The use of the future in the last clause shews that the writer, as in many other cases, takes his position in the midst of the event, and views it as partly past and partly future. This bold assumption of an ideal situation greatly adds to the life and vividness of the description.

6 (5). The bands of hell surrounded me, the snares of death encountered me. This verse merely repeats and amplifies the first clause of the fifth. Hell, in the wide old English sense, is a poetical equivalent to death. See above, on Ps. 6:6 (5). The explicit mention of snares in the last clause confirms the explanation before given of bands. Encountered, met me, crossed my path. The sense prevented or anticipated does not suit the context, and that of surprised is not sufficiently justified by usage. See above, on Ps. 17:13.

7 (6). In my distress I will invoke Jehovah, and to my God will cry; he will hear from his palace my voice, and my prayer before him will come, into his ears. The verbs are in the future, because they express the feelings not of one looking back upon the danger as already past, but of one actually implicated in it. See above, on ver. 5 (4). The literal meaning of the words is, in distress to me. Compare the phrase, at times in distress, Ps. 9:10 (9), 10:1. My God implies a covenant relation and a hope of audience founded on it. The verb translated cry is specially appropriated to a cry for help. His palace here means heaven, as God’s royal residence. See above, on Ps. 11:4. Into his ears is a kind of after-thought, designed to strengthen the preceding expression. It shall not only reach his presence, but, as it were, shall penetrate his ears. The whole expresses an assured hope of being heard, and is really tantamount to an assertion that he was heard.

8 (7). Then did the earth shake and quake, and the foundations of the mountains trembled and were shaken because he was angry. The idea of succession expressed by the English then is conveyed in Hebrew by the form of the verb. The resemblance, in form and sound, of shake and quake, corresponds to that of the original verbs (וַתִּגְעַשׁ וַתִּרְעַשׁ). A reflexive or emphatic passive form of the first verb appears in the second clause. The closing words of this clause strictly mean because it was inflamed (or enkindled) to him with an ellipsis of the noun (אַף) anger. The full construction may be found in Deut. 6:15, and Ps. 124:3. The phrase foundations of the mountains is copied from Deut. 32:22.

9 (8). There went up smoke in his wrath, and fire from his mouth devours: coals are kindled from it. Smoke and fire are mentioned as natural concomitants and parallel figures, both denoting anger, and suggested by the phrase it was inflamed to him in the preceding verse. Compare Deut. 32:22, 29:19 (20), Ps. 24:1. The translation nostrils rests on a confusion of two collateral derivatives from the verb to breathe. (See my note on Isa. 48:9.) Nor is this sense required by the parallelism, unless mouth and nose must always go together. There seems to be some allusion to the fire and smoke at Sinai, Exod. 19:18. From it may have reference to fire; but the nearest antecedent is his mouth. Compare Job 41:11–13 (19–21). There is no need of supplying any object with devours; the idea is that of a devouring fire, i.e. one capable of consuming whatever combustible material it may meet with.

10 (9). So he bowed the heavens and came down, and gloom (was) under his feet. The scene seems here to be transferred from heaven to earth, where the psalmist sees not only the divine operation but the personal presence of Jehovah. The word so, familiarly employed in English to continue a narrative, here represents the vau conversive of the Hebrew. The word translated gloom is not the usual term for darkness, but a poetical expression specially applied to dense clouds and vapors. The expression seems to be derived from Deut. 5:22. Compare with this clause, Exod. 19:16, and with the first, Isa. 63:19 (64:1).

11 (10). And he rode on a cherub and flew, and soared on the wings of a wind. The cherubim of the Mosaic system were visible representations of the whole class of creatures superior to man. The singular form cherub seems to be used here to convey the indefinite idea of a superhuman but created being. The whole verse is a poetical description of God’s intervention, as a scene presented to the senses. As earthly kings are carried by inferior animals, so the heavenly king is here described as borne through the air in his descent by beings intermediate between himself and man. The word soared, in the second clause, is used to represent a poetical term in the original borrowed from Deut. 28:49. With the whole verse compare Ps. 68:18 (17), and 104:3.

12 (11). (And) set darkness (as) his covert about him, his shelter, darkness of waters, clouds of the skies, This concealment suggests the idea of a brightness insupportable by mortal sight. Compare Deut. 4:11, Job 36:29, Ps. 97:2. Darkness of waters does not mean dark waters, but watery darkness, a beautiful description of clouds charged with rain. The two nouns in the last clause both mean clouds, but the second is used only in the plural, and seems properly to designate the whole body of vapors constituting the visible heavens or sky. A somewhat similar combination occurs in Exod. 19:9.

13 (12). From the blaze before him his clouds passedhail and coals of fire. The dark clouds which enveloped him are now described as penetrated by the light within. Passed, i.e. passed away, were dispelled. The last clause may be construed as an exclamation such as an eye-witness might have uttered. The combination is borrowed from Exod. 9:24. (Compare Ps. 78:47, 48.) Hail, as an instrument of the divine vengeance, is also mentioned in Josh. 10:11.

14 (13). Then thundered in the heavens Jehovah, and the Highest gave his voicehail and coals of fire. The second clause is a poetical repetition of the first. “The Most High gave his voice,” means in this connection neither more nor less than that he “thundered in the heavens.” Though visibly present upon earth he is described as still in heaven. Compare Gen. 11:5, 7; 18:21; John 3:13. The last clause may be construed as in ver. 13, or made dependent on the verb gave, as in Exod. 9:23: “Jehovah gave thunder and hail.” This clause is repeated because the hail and lightning were not merely terrific circumstances, but appointed instruments of vengeance and weapons of destruction.

15 (14). Then sent he his arrows and scattered them, and shot forth lightnings and confounded them. The lightnings of the last clause may be understood as explaining the arrows of the first. Instead of shot forth lightnings some translate and lightnings much, i.e. many, in which sense the Hebrew word (רָב) occurs sometimes elsewhere (Exod. 19:21, 1 Sam. 14:6, Num. 26:54). In several other places it seems to mean enough or too much (Gen. 45:28, Exod. 9:28, Num. 16:3, 7, Deut. 1:6). If either of these constructions is adopted, the verb sent must be repeated from the other clause. The version first given, shot, is justified by the analogy of Gen. 49:23. The last verb in the sentence is a military term denoting the confusion of an army produced by a surprise or sudden panic; see Exod. 14:24, 23:27, Josh. 10:10, and with the whole verse compare Ps. 144:6.

16 (15). Then were seen the channels of water and uncovered the foundations of the world, at thy rebuke, Jehovah, at the blast of the breath of thy wrath. The idea meant to be conveyed by this poetical description is that of sudden and complete subversion, the turning of the whole earth upside down. The language is not designed to be exactly expressive of any real physical change whatever. From, or at thy rebuke, i.e. after it and in consequence of it. The breath of thy wrath, thy angry breath, might also be rendered, the wind of thy wrath, thy angry or tempestuous wind. That the Hebrew words do not mean thy nose or nostrils, see above, on ver. 9 (8). Some suppose an allusion, in the figures of this verse, to the floods of worthlessness in ver 5 (4), and the bands of hell in ver. 6 (5).

17 (16). He will send from above, he will take me, he will draw me out of many waters. Here again the writer seems to take his stand between the inception and the consummation of the great deliverance, and to speak just as he might have spoken while it was in progress. “All this he has done in preparation, and now he is about to send,” &c. This seems to be a more satisfactory explanation of the future forms than to make them simple presents, and still more than to make them preterites, which is wholly arbitrary and ungrammatical, although the acts described by these futures were in fact past at the time of composition. To send from above in our idiom means to send a messenger; but in Hebrew this verb is the one used with hand, where we say stretch out, e.g. in the parallel passage Ps. 144:7. (See also Gen. 8:9, 48:14). The noun, however, is sometimes omitted, and the verb used absolutely to express the sense of the whole phrase, as in 2 Sam. 6:6, Ps. 57:4 (3). From above, from on high, from the height or high place, i.e. heaven, the place of God’s manifested presence. There is peculiar beauty in the word translated draw, which is the root of the name Moses, and occurs, besides the place before us, only in the explanation of that name recorded by himself, Exod. 2:10. The choice of this unusual expression here involves an obvious allusion both to the historical fact and the typical meaning of the deliverance of Moses, and a kind of claim upon the part of David to be regarded as another Moses.

18 (17). He will free me from my enemy (because he is) strong, and from my haters, because they are mightier than I. The futures are to be explained as in the verse preceding. The enemy here mentioned is an ideal person, representing a whole class, of whom Saul was the chief representative. The idiomatic phrase, my enemy strong, may be understood as simply meaning my strong enemy; but the true construction seems to be indicated by the parallelism. His own weakness and the power of his enemies is given as a reason for the divine interposition.

19 (18). They will encounter me in the day of my calamity; and Jehovah has been for a stay to me. The first clause seems to express a belief that his trials from this quarter are not ended, while the other appeals to past deliverances as a ground of confidence that God will still sustain him. Most interpreters, however, make the future and preterite forms of this verse perfectly equivalent. “They encountered me in the day of my calamity, and the Lord was for a stay to me.” As to the meaning of the first verb, see above, on ver. 6 (5). It is not improbable that David here alludes to his sufferings in early life when fleeing before Saul; see above on ver. 3 (2).

20 (19). And brought me out into the wide place; he will save me because he delights in me. The construction is continued from the foregoing sentence. As confinement or pressure is a common figure for distress, so relief from it is often represented as enlargement, or as coming forth into an open space. See above, on Ps. 6:2 (1). Here, as in the preceding verse, most interpreters make no distinction between preterite and future. The meaning may, however, be that he expects the same deliverance hereafter which he has experienced already.

21 (20). Jehovah will treat me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands will he repay me. The future verbs have reference to the condition of the Psalmist under his afflictions, and the hopes which even then he was enabled to cherish. At the same time they make this the announcement of a general and perpetual truth, a law by which God’s dispensations are to be controlled for ever. The hands are mentioned as organs or instruments of action. Compare Isa. 1:15, Job 9:30, 22:30. The righteousness here claimed is not an absolute perfection or entire exemption from all sinful infirmity, but what Paul calls submission to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3), including faith in his mercy and a sincere governing desire to do his will. This is a higher and more comprehensive sense than innocence of some particular charge, or innocence in reference to man, though not in reference to God.

22 (21). For I have kept the ways of Jehovah, and have not apostatized from my God. The Lord’s ways are the ways which he marks out for us to walk in, the ways of duty and of safety. To keep them is to keep one’s self in them, to observe them so as to adhere to them and follow them. The last clause strictly means, I have not been wicked (or guilty) from my God; a combination of the verb and proposition which shews clearly that the essential idea in the writer’s mind was that of apostasy or total abjuration of God’s service. Its is of this mortal sin, and not of all particular transgressions, that the Psalmist here professes himself innocent.

23 (22). For all his judgments (are) before me, and his statutes I will not put from me. Judicial decisions and permanent enactments are here used as equivalent expressions for all God’s requisitions. To have these before one is to observe them, and the opposite of putting them away or out of sight. The terms of this profession have been evidently chosen in allusion to such dicta of the law itself as Deut. 5:29, 17:11. From the past tense of the foregoing verse he here insensibly slides into the present and the future, so as to make his profession of sincerity include his former life, his actual dispositions, and his settled purpose for all time to come.

24 (23). And I have been perfect with him, and have kept myself from my iniquity. He not only will be faithful, but he has been so already, in the sense before explained. There is evident reference in the first clause to the requisition of the Law, “thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God,” Deut. 18:13. (Compare Gen. 17:1.) With means not merely in his presence, or his sight, as distinguished from men’s estimate of moral objects, but “in my intercourse and dealing with him.” Compare 1 Kings 11:4, and the description of David in 1 Kings 14:8, 15:5. In the last clause some see an allusion to David’s adventure in the cave, when his conscience smote him for meditating violence against Saul. See 1 Sam. 24:6, and compare 1 Sam. 26:23, 24. But whether this be so or not, the clause undoubtedly contains a confession of corruption. My iniquity can only mean that to which I am naturally prone and subject. We have here, then, a further proof that the perfection claimed in the first clause is not an absolute immunity from sin, but an upright purpose and desire to serve God.

25 (24). And Jehovah has requited me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands before his eyes. This verse shews clearly that the futures in ver. 21 (20) must be strictly understood. What he there represents himself as confidently hoping, he here professes to have really experienced. In the intervening verses he shews how he had done his part, and now acknowledges that God had faithfully performed his own.

26, 27 (25, 26). With the gracious thou wilt shew thyself gracious; with the perfect man thou wilt shew thyself perfect; with the purified thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the crooked thou wilt shew thyself perverse. What he had previously mentioned as the method of God’s dealings towards himself, he now describes as a general law of the divine administration. The essential idea is that God is, in a certain sense, to men precisely what they are to him. The particular qualities specified are only given as examples, and might have been exchanged for others without altering the general sense. The form of expression is extremely strong and bold, but scarcely liable to misapprehension, even in ver. 27 (26). No one is in danger of imagining that God can act perversely even to the most perverse. But the same course of proceeding which would be perverse in itself or towards a righteous person, when pursued towards a sinner becomes a mere act of vindicatory justice. In the first clause of ver. 26 (25), the ambiguous word gracious has been chosen to represent the similar term חָסִיד, for the comprehensive use of which we see above, on Ps. 4:4 (3), 12:2 (1). Perfect has the same sense as in ver. 23 (22), namely, that of freedom from hypocrisy and malice. The verbs are all of the reflexive form and might be rendered, thou wilt make thyself gracious, thou wilt act the gracious, or simply thou wilt be gracious, &c., but the common version approaches nearest to the force of the original expression. The first verb of ver. 27 (26) occurs once elsewhere (Dan. 12:10), the rest only here. The forms may have been coined for the occasion, to express the bold conception of the writer. The resemblance of the last clause of ver. 27 (26) to Lev. 26:23, 24, makes it highly probable that the whole form of this singular dictum was suggested by that passage, the rather as this Psalm abounds in allusions to the Pentateuch and imitations of it.

28 (27). For thou wilt save the afflicted people, and lofty eyes thou wilt bring down. Another general description of God’s dealings with mankind, repeated more than once in the New Testament. See Mat. 23:12, Luke 14:11, 18:14. High looks or lofty eyes is a common Old Testament expression for pride and haughtiness. See below, on Ps. 101:5, 131:1, and compare Prov. 21:4, 30:13, Isa. 10:12, 37:23. The afflicted people means the people of God when in affliction, or considered as sufferers. Thou is emphatic: “however men may despise and maltreat thy afflicted people, I know that thou wilt save them.”

29 (28). For thou wilt light my lamp; Jehovah, my God, will illuminate my darkness. Having ascended from particulars to generals, he now reverses the process. On his own experience, as described in ver. 4–25 (3–24), he had founded a general declaration of God’s mode of dealing with men, which statement he proceeds now to illustrate by recurring to his own experience. In this second part there is reason to believe that he has reference to the other cases of deliverance in his history, besides those from Saul’s persecutions which had furnished the theme of his thanksgiving in the first part of the psalm. In accordance with this difference of subject, it has been observed that in this second part he appears more active, and not merely as an object but an instrument of God’s delivering mercy. As to the form of expression in this part, it has been determined by the writer’s assuming his position at the close of the Sauline persecution, and describing his subsequent deliverances as still prospective. This was the more convenient, as he wished to express a confident assurance of God’s goodness, not only to himself individually but to his posterity. A lamp or candle in the house is a common Hebrew figure for prosperity, and its extinction for distress. See Job 18:5, 6, 21:17, Prov. 24:20. The first clause may also be translated, thou wilt make my light shine. The verb in the parallel clause is from another root, and there is consequently no such assonance as in the English version (light, enlighten). The pronoun in the first clause is again emphatic. “Whatever I may suffer at the hands of others, thou at least wilt light my candle.” The emphasis is sustained in the last clause by a sudden change of person and introduction of the divine name.

30 (29). For in thee I shall run (through or over) a troop, and in my God I shall leap a wall. From his ideal post of observation he foresees the military triumphs which awaited him, and which were actually past at the time of composition. The ‘for’, as in the two preceding verses, connects the illustration with the general proposition in ver. 27–29 (26–28). “This is certainly God’s mode of dealing, for I know that he will deal thus with me.” In thee, and in my God, i.e. in intimate union with him and possession of him, a much stronger sense than that of mere assistance (by thee), which however, is included. See below, on Ps. 44:6 (5).—The ellipsis of the preposition, with which the verbs are usually construed, belongs to the license of poetical style. Even in prose, however, we can say, to walk the streets, to leap a wall. To run a troop may either mean to run against or through it; the phrase may therefore be completed so as to have either an offensive or defensive sense. In like manner, leaping a wall may either mean escaping from an enemy or storming his defenses. Most interpreters prefer the stronger meaning of attack, which is certainly entitled to the preference, unless the writer be supposed to have selected his expressions with a view to the suggestion of both these ideas, which together comprehend all possible varieties of success in war. As if he had said, “Weak though I be in myself, I am sure that in conjunction with thee, neither armies nor fortifications shall be able to subdue or even to resist me.” With David’s tone of triumphant confidence in this verse, compare Paul’s in 2 Cor. 2:14, and Philip. 4:13.

31 (30). The Almightyperfect is his waythe word of Jehovah is trieda shield (is) he to all those trusting in him. The first clause seems to be an amplification of my God in the preceding verse. In my God, the Mighty (God), whose way is perfect, i.e. his mode of dealing, as before described, is free from all taint of injustice. This explanation suggests a further description of Jehovah as a sure protector. His word here means especially his promise, perhaps with specific allusion to the seventh chapter of 2 Samuel. Tried, as metals are tried by fire, and thus proved to be genuine; see above, on Ps. 12:7 (6). A shield; see above, on Ps. 3:4 (3). Trusting in him; see above, on Ps. 2:12.

32 (31). For who is God save Jehovah? And who is a rock besides our God? The ‘for’ shows that this verse gives the ground of the strong assurances contained in that before it. “I affirm all this because I recognize Jehovah as the only true God.” Rock has the same sense as in ver. 3 (2). The whole verse bears a strong resemblance to 2 Sam. 7:22.

33 (32). The Almighty girding me with strength, and (who) has given (or rendered) my way perfect. The connection of the verses is the same as that between ver. 31 (30) and 32 (31). The our God of the preceding verse is here described as the Almighty girding me, &c. For the true sense of the divine name here and in ver. 32 (31), see above, on Ps. 5:5 (4). 7:12, (11), 10:11, 12, 16:1, 17:6. The imparting of a quality or bestowing of a gift is in various languages described as clothing. Thus the English words endue and invest have almost lost their original meaning. The figure of girding is peculiarly significant, because in the oriental dress the girdle is essential to all free and active motion. Compare Ps. 65:13 (12), as translated in the margin of the English Bible, and Isa. 11:5. The last clause may either mean, “who is faultless in the way by which he leads me,” i.e. whose dispensations towards me are free from all injustice; or, “who gives my conduct the perfection which belongs to it.” The first construction gives the words the same sense as in ver. 31 (30), but the other is by far the simplest and most natural, and as such entitled to the preference.

34 (33). Making my feet like hinds, and on my heights he makes me stand. The first word properly means equaling, assimilating, the idea of resemblance being expressed in Hebrew both by the verb and by the particle of comparison. The female animal is supposed by some to be mentioned because it was regarded as more fleet, and accordingly we find it used in the Egyptian hieroglyphics as a symbol of swiftness. The name, however, may be used generally, as in English we apply either the masculine or feminine pronoun to some whole species. My heights, those which are to be mine by right of conquest and by divine gift. The heights may be either the natural highlands of the country or the artificial heights of its fortified places. It has been disputed whether the swiftness mentioned in the first clause has reference to attack or flight. Most probably both were meant to be included, as in ver. 30 (29) above. For both reasons swiftness of foot was prized in the heroic age, as appears from Homer’s standing description of Achilles. See 2 Sam. 2:18, 1 Chron. 12:8.

35 (34). Teaching my hands to war, and my arms have bent a bow of brass. The construction is continued from the preceding verse, all the participles having reference to the name of God in ver. 33 (32). The last clause is a strong expression for extraordinary strength, which is mentioned merely as a heroic quality. The translation broken rests on what is now regarded as a false etymology. Brass was used before iron in Egypt and other ancient countries as a material for arms.

36 (35). And hast given me a shield, thy salvation; and thy right hand is to hold me up, and thy condescension is to make me great. In the first clause we may also read the shield of thy salvation, or thy shield of salvation, i.e. thy saving shield, without material variation of the sense. The futures have reference to the point from which he is surveying things past as still future. The noun in the last clause means humility, as an attribute of human character (Prov. 15:33), but when applied to God, benignant self-abasement, condescending kindness to inferiors. Compare Ps. 8:5 (4), Isai. 66:1, 2.

37 (36). Thou wilt enlarge my steps under me, and my ankles shall not swerve. To enlarge the steps is to afford ample room for walking freely without hindrance. The opposite figure is that of confined steps. See Prov. 4:12, Job 18:7. The meaning of the whole verse is, thou wilt guide me safely.

38 (37). I am to pursue my enemies and overtake them, and not to turn back until I destroy them. This is not a threat of vengeance, but a confident anticipation of perpetual triumphs, either in his own person or in that of his descendants. The form of expression in the first clause is borrowed from the Song of Moses, Exod. 15:9. See above on Ps. 7:6 (5), where the same two verbs are combined. The reference of all these future forms to past time would be not only gratuitous but ungrammatical.

39 (38). I shall smite them and they cannot rise, they shall fall beneath my feet. This simply carries out the idea of successful pursuit in the preceding verse.

40 (39). And thou hast girded me with strength for the war (or battle), thou wilt bow down my assailants under me. He returns to God as the author of his triumphs and successes. The first clause blends the ideas expressed in the corresponding clauses of ver. 33, 36 (32, 35).—My assailants, literally, my insurgents, those rising up against me. See ver. 49 below, and compare Ps. 44:6 (5), 59:2 (1), Job 27:7. Here again the spirit of the Psalmist is not that of an ambitious conqueror, but of a willing instrument in God’s hand, to be used for the promotion of his sovereign purpose.

41 (40). And my enemiesthou hast given to me the backand my hatersI will destroy them. Each clause begins with an absolute nominative which might be rendered, as to my enemies, as to my haters. The remainder of the first clause is highly idiomatic in its form, and scarcely admits of an exact translation. The word translated back properly means the back of the neck, but is frequently used in such connections. The meaning of the whole phrase is, thou hast given me their back, i.e. made them to turn it towards me by putting them to flight. This is also a Mosaic form of speech. See Exod. 23:27, and compare Josh. 7:8, 2 Chron. 29:6. Ps. 21:13 (12).

42 (41), They shall call for help, and there is no delivererupon Jehovah, and he hears them not. Because they have no covenant relation to him, as the Psalmist had. Their calling on Jehovah does not exclude all reference to heathen foes, as appears from Jonah 1:14.—Hear, in the pregnant sense of hearing favorably, granting, answering a prayer. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4).

43 (42). And I shall beat them small as dust before the wind, as dirt in the streets I will pour them out. The comparisons in this verse are intended to express the Psalmist’s superiority to his enemies, his consequent contempt for them, and the facility with which he will destroy them. Similar images are not unfrequent in the Old Testament. See for example Isa. 10:6, Zeph. 1:17. Zech. 10:5.

44 (43). Thou wilt save me from the strifes of the people; thou wilt place me at the head (or for a chief) of nations; a people I have not known shall serve me. He was not only to be freed from the internal strifes of his own people, but by that deliverance enabled to subdue other nations. The closing words of the psalm, and its obvious connection with the promises in 2 Sam. 7, shew that this anticipation was not limited to David’s personal triumphs, either at home or abroad, but meant to comprehend the victories of his successors, and especially of him in whom the royal line was at once to end and be perpetuated. It may, therefore, be affirmed with truth that this prediction had its complete fulfilment only in Christ.

45, 46 (44, 45). At the hearing of the ear they will obey me, the sons of outland will lie to me; the sons of outland will decay, and tremble out of their enclosures. The meaning of the first words of this verse is clear from Job 42:5, where the hearing of the ear is put in opposition to the sight of the eye, report or hearsay to personal and ocular inspection. The verb translated will obey, whenever it occurs elsewhere, is a simple passive of the verb to hear, and accordingly some render it here, they who have only been heard of by the hearing of the ear, i.e. those whom I have only heard of, but have never seen, will feign obedience. But as the corresponding form of the verb to lie (יִכָּחֲשׁוּ) is used by Moses actively in Deut. 33:29, to which place there is an obvious allusion here, the first translation above given is entitled to the preference, and the sense is, that as soon as foreign nations hear of him they will lie to him, i.e. yield a feigned obedience through the influence of fear, in which sense another form of the same verb is used not only in the passage of the Pentateuch just cited, but in Ps. 66:3, 81:16 (15).—The old word outland, which may still be traced in its derivative adjective outlandish, has been here employed to represent a Hebrew word for which we have no equivalent in modern English, and which means foreign parts indefinitely or collectively. The marginal version in the English Bible (sons of the stranger) is only an inexact approximation to the form of the original. The verb decay, which properly denotes the withering of plants (see above, Ps. 1:3), is applied to the wasting of the human subject, and indeed of whole communities, in Exod. 18:18. To tremble from, or out of, is a pregnant phrase, involving the idea of a verb of motion, and meaning to come forth with fear. The same form of expression may be found in Micah 7:17, and analogous ones in 1 Sam. 16:4, Hosea 11:11.—Their enclosures, their retreats or refuges, perhaps with special reference to military enclosures, such as fortresses and camps.

47 (46). Jehovah lives, and blessed be my rock, and high shall be the God of my salvation. The first phrase, (חַי יְהֹוָה) which is elsewhere always used as a formula of swearing (as the Lord liveth, i.e. as certainly as God exists), is by some interpreters confounded with a kindred phrase (יְחִי הַמָּלָךְ) vive le roi, (long) live the king, and regarded as a kind of acclamation, similar to those which were uttered at the coronation of the Jewish kings (1 Sam. 10:24, 1 Kings 1:25, 39, 2 Kings 11:12). But besides, the difference of form in Hebrew, such a wish is inappropriate to any but a mortal. There may, however, be an intentional allusion to the custom in question, as well as to the practice of swearing by the life of Jehovah, both of which would naturally be suggested to a Hebrew reader. Jehovah is described as the living God, in contrast to dead idols, or imaginary deities, which, as Paul says (1 Cor. 8:4), are nothing in the world. Blessed be my rock, the foundation of my hope, my refuge and protector; see above, on ver. 3 (2). The word translated blessed does not mean happy, but praised, and may here have the peculiar sense of worthy to be praised, like מְהֻלָּל in ver. 4 (3) above. It may be rendered as an affirmation: My rock (is) worthy to be praised. Or it may be taken as a wish: Praised (be) my rock, to which there is the less objection, as the preceding proposition is, in fact though not in form, a doxology, i.e. a declaration of what God is in himself, and of that to which he is in consequence entitled. The third phrase, he shall be high, may be understood to mean, not only he shall still be glorious, but he shall be magnified as such, exalted by the praises of his creatures. The God of my salvation, or, my God of salvation, does not merely mean the God who saves me, but my God who is a Saviour, of whom this is one essential character. Compare Luke 1:47. This epithet is common in the Psalms, and occurs once or twice in the Prophets. Isa. 17:10, Mic. 7:7, Hab. 3:18.

48 (47). The Mighty (God) who gives revenges to me and has subdued nations under me. The construction is the same as in ver. 31, 33 (30, 32) above. This verse contains a further description of the God of his salvation, and at the same time justifies the affirmations of the preceding verse. What the Psalmist here rejoices in is not vengeance wreaked upon his personal enemies, but punishment inflicted on the enemies of God through himself as a mere instrument. Not to rejoice in this would have proved him unworthy of his high vocation. With the last clause compare Ps. 47:4 (3), 144:2.

49 (48). Saving me from my enemies; yea, from my assailants (or insurgents) thou wilt raise me high; from the man of violence thou wilt deliver me. Here again the construction changes from the participle to the finite verb, but with a further change to the second person, which adds greatly to the life and energy of the expression. The yea may be taken as a simple copulative, and assailants as a mere equivalent to enemies. Some prefer, however, to assume a climax, and to understand the verse as meaning that he had not only been delivered from external foes, but from the more dangerous assaults of domestic treason or rebellion. There would then seem to be an allusion to Absalom’s conspiracy. Thou wilt raise me, set me up on high, beyond the reach of all my enemies. For a similar expression see below, Ps. 59:2 (1), as translated in the margin of the English Bible. The man of violence has, no doubt, reference to Saul, but only as the type of a whole class. Compare Ps. 140:2, 5 (1, 4).

50 (49). Therefore I will thank thee among the nations, O Jehovah, and to thy name will sing. The first word has reference not merely to the fact of his deliverance and promotion, but to the character in which he had experienced these blessings, and the extent of the divine purpose in bestowing them. “Therefore—because it is God who has done and is to do all this for me, and because it is in execution of a purpose comprehending the whole race—I will not confine my praises and thanksgiving to my own people, but extend them to all nations.” The performance of this vow has been going on for ages, and is still in progress wherever this and other psalms of David are now sung or read. The verse before us is legitimately used by Paul, together with Deut. 32:43, Isa. 11:1, 10, and Ps. 117:1, to prove that, even under the restrictive institutions of the old economy, God was not the God of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also. (Rom. 3:29, 15:9–12).—The verb in the first clause strictly means I will confess or acknowledge, but is specially applied to the acknowledgment of gifts received or benefits experienced, and then corresponds almost exactly to our thank. The corresponding verb in the last clause means to praise by music. See above, on Ps. 7:18 (17), 9:3, 12 (2, 11).

51 (50). Making great the salvations of his King, and doing kindness to his Anointed, to David, and to his seed unto eternity. We have here another instance of the favorite construction which connects a sentence with the foregoing context by means of a participle agreeing with the subject of a previous sentence; see above, ver. 31 (30), 32 (31), 33 (32), 34 (33), 49 (48). Making great salvations, saving often and signally. The plural form conveys the idea of fullness and completeness. As the phrase His Anointed might have seemed to designate David exclusively, he shews its comprehensive import by expressly adding David and his seed, from which it clearly follows that the Messiah or Anointed One here mentioned is a complex or ideal person, and that Jesus Christ, far from being excluded, is, in fact, the principal person comprehended, as the last and greatest of the royal line of David, to whom the promises were especially given, in whom alone they are completely verified, and of whom alone the last words of this psalm could be uttered, in their true and strongest sense, without a falsehood or without absurdity. In this conclusion, as in other portions of the psalm, there is a clear though tacit reference to the promise in 2 Sam. 7:12–16, 25, 26, where several of the very same expressions are employed. Compare also Ps. 28:8, 84:10 (9), and Ps. 89, passim.

Another copy of this psalm is found recorded near the close of David’s history (2 Sam. ch. 22), which confirms the intimation in the title, that it was not composed in reference to any particular occasion, but in a general retrospection of the miseries of his whole life. The two texts often differ, both in form and substance, which has led some to suppose, that one is an erroneous transcript of the other. But this conclusion is forbidden by the uniform consistency of each considered in itself, as well as by the obvious indications of design in the particular variations, which may be best explained by supposing, that David himself, for reasons not recorded, prepared a twofold form of this sublime composition, which is the less improbable, as there are other unambiguous traces of the same process in the Old Testament, and in the writings of David himself. See below, the exposition of Ps. 53, and compare that of Isaiah, ch. 36–39. If this be a correct hypothesis, the two forms of the eighteenth psalm may be treated as distinct and independent compositions; and it has therefore been thought most advisable, both for the purpose of saving room and of avoiding the confusion which a parallel interpretation might have caused, to confine the exposition in this volume to that form of the psalm, which was preserved in the Psalter for permanent use in public worship, and which exhibits strong internal proofs of being the original or first conception, although both are equally authentic and inspired.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 74–87). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Sincere Conformity to God's Will

Sincere Conformity to God's Will

Psalm 17

“A Prayer of David. Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips. Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; let thine eyes behold the things that are equal. Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer. Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not. I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech. Shew thy marvelous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about. They are inclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly. They have now compassed us in our steps: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth; Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places. Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword: From men which are thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” (Psalm 17, AV)

A sufferer, in imminent danger, professes his sincere conformity to God’s will, and invokes his favor and protection, ver. 1–5. This petition is enforced by an appeal to former mercies, ver. 6, 7, and a description of the wickedness of his enemies, ver. 8–12, whose character and spirit he contrasts with his own, ver. 13–15.

The position of this psalm in the collection seems to have been determined by the resemblance of its subject, tone, and diction, to those of the sixteenth, with which it may be said to form a pair or double psalm, like the first and second, third and fourth, ninth and tenth, &c.

1. A Prayer. By David. Hear, O Jehovah, the right, hearken to my cry, give ear to my prayer not with lips of deceit. This psalm is called a prayer because petition is its burden, its characteristic feature, its essential element. By David, literally, to David, i.e. belonging to him as its author.—The right, righteousness or justice in the abstract, here put for a just cause, or perhaps for one who is in the right, who has justice on his side. The prayer that God will hear the right implies that no appeal is made to partiality or privilege, but merely to the merits of the case. The righteousness claimed is not merely that of the cause but that of the person, not inherent but derived from the imputed righteousness of faith according to the doctrine of the Old as well as the New Testament. The quality alleged is not that of sinless perfection but that of sincere conformity to the divine will. The last clause, not with lips of deceit, applies to all that goes before, and represents sincerity as necessary to acceptance. The original expression is still stronger, and conveys much more than a negative. It does not merely say, not with deceitful lips, but more positively with lips not deceitful.

2. From before thee my judgment shall come forth; thine eyes shall behold equities. This sentence really involves a prayer, but in form it is the expression of a confident hope. From before thee, from thy presence, thy tribunal. My judgment, my acquittal, vindication; or my justice, i.e. my just cause, my cause considered as a just one. Shall come forth, to the view of others, shall be seen and recognized in its true character, as being what it is. The reason is, because God’s judgments are infallible. His eyes cannot fail to see innocence or righteousness where it exists. The plural, rectitudes or equities, is an emphatic abstract. See above, on the parallel passage, Ps. 11:7.

3. Thou hast tried my heart, hast visited (me) by night, hast assayed me; thou wilt not find; my mouth shall not exceed my thought. He still appeals to God as the judge and witness of his own sincerity. The preterites represent the process as no new one, although still continued in the present. Visited for the purpose of examination or inspection, in which specific sense the English verb is often used. By night, as the time when men’s thoughts are least under restraint, and when the evil, if there be any, is most certain of detection. Purged me, as the purity of metals is tested by fire, to which process the Hebrew word is specially applied. Thou shalt not find anything at variance with the sincerity of this profession.—The future form implies that the investigation is to be continued, but without any change in the result.—The last clause is doubtful and obscure. The common version, I am purposed (that) my mouth shall not transgress, agrees well enough with the form of the words, but is forbidden by the accents. The reversed construction, my thoughts shall not exceed my mouth (or speech), is ungrammatical; nor does either of these constructions suit the context so well as the first, which makes the clause a renewed profession of sincerity.

4. (As) to the works of man, by the word of thy lips I have kept the paths of the violent (transgressor.) The works of man are the sinful courses to which man is naturally prone. The generic term man (אָדָם) is often used in reference to the sinful infirmities of human nature. See 1 Sam. 24:10 (9), Hos. 6:7, Job 31:33. The word of God’s lips is the word uttered by him, with particular reference to his precepts or commands, but including his entire revelation. By this word, by means of it as an instrument, and in reliance on it as an authority.—The verb (שָׁמַר) translated kept properly means watched, and is elsewhere applied to the observance of a rule, but in this place seems to mean watched for the purpose of avoiding, as we say in English to keep away from or keep out of danger.—From the verb (פָּרַץ) to break forth, elsewhere applied to gross iniquities (Hos. 4:2.) comes the adjective (פָּרִיץ) violent, outrageous, here used as an epithet of the flagrant sinner.

5. My steps have laid hold of thy paths, my feet have not swerved. His profession of integrity is still continued. The first verb is in the infinitive form, but determined by the preterites before and after. The English language does not furnish equivalents to the parallel terms in Hebrew, both which denote footsteps. The common version violates the context by converting the first clause into a prayer, which would here be out of place.

6. I have invoked thee because thou wilt answer me, O God! Incline thine ear to me, hear my speech. The alternation of the tenses is significant. ‘I have invoked thee heretofore, and do so still, because I know that thou wilt hear me.” It is needless to observe how much the sentence is enfeebled by the change of either to the present.—Thou wilt hear me, in the pregnant sense of hearing graciously or answering a prayer. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4).—O (mighty) God! The divine name here used is the one denoting God’s omnipotence. See above, Ps. 5:5 (4), 7:12 (11), 10:11, 12. 16:1.—My speech, what I say, אִמְרָה from אָמַר to say.

7. Distinguish thy mercies, (O thou) saving those trusting, from those rising up, with thy right hand. The first verb is the same that occurs in Ps. 4:4 (3.) Here, as there, it means to set apart, or single out, but with particular reference to extraordinary favors, implying an unusual necessity. Such mercy is described as perfectly in keeping with the divine mode of action in such cases.—Trusting, seeking refuge, i.e. in God. See above, on Ps. 16:1. The same ellipsis may be assumed after rising up, or we may supply against them.—With thy right hand, as the instrument of deliverance. Compare Ps. 16:11. These words must be connected in construction with saving.

8. Keep me as the apple of the eye, in the shadow of thy wings thou wilt hide me. The first verb means to watch over, guard, preserve with care. See above, on ver. 4, where it occurs in a figurative application. The pupil or apple of the eye is a proverbial type of that which is most precious and most easily injured, and which therefore has a double claim to sedulous protection. The original phrase is strongly idiomatic, exhibiting what seems to be a singular confusion of the genders. Its literal meaning is, supplying the articles omitted by poetic license, the man (or the little man, or the man-like part) the daughter of the eye. The first word has reference to the image reflected in the pupil, which is then described as belonging to the eye, by an oriental idiom which uses personal relations, son, daughter, &c., to denote the mutual relations even of inanimate objects. The comparison is borrowed from Deut. 32:10, where it is followed by another with the eagle’s treatment of her young, to which there seems to be allusion in the last clause of the verse before us. The imperative form of the first verb is no reason for departing from the future form of the other, which is much more expressive. What he asks in one clause he expresses his assured hope of obtaining in the other.

9. From the face of the wicked who have wasted me; mine enemies to the soul will surround me. The preceding sentence is continued, with a more particular description of the objects of his dread. “Thou wilt hide me from the face, sight, or presence of the wicked.” Wasted, desolated, destroyed, with allusion perhaps to the siege of a town or the invasion of a country. The same term is applied to a dead man in Judges 5:27. The enemies of the last clause are identical with the wicked of the first. Enemies in soul may mean cordial haters, or enemies who seek the soul or life, called deadly enemies in the English version. Or בְּנֶפֶשׁ may be construed with the verb: surround me eagerly (with craving appetite); or surround me against my soul or life, i.e. with a view to take it.—The future form suggests that the danger which the first clause had described as past, was still present, and likely to continue. As if he had said, “from my wicked foes who have already wasted me, and will no doubt still continue to surround me.” In this description present danger is included, whereas if we substitute the present form, we lose the obvious allusion to the future and the past.

10. Their fat they have closed; (with) their mouth they have spoken in pride. The first clause, though not exactly rendered, is correctly paraphrased in the English Bible; they are enclosed in their own fat. This is no uncommon metaphor in Scripture for moral and spiritual insensibility; see Deut. 32:15, Job 15:27, Ps. 73:7, 119:70. The literal sense of the expressions derives some illustration from Judg. 3:22. Some give to fat the specific sense of heart, which is said to have in Arabic, “their heart they have closed.” But the other explanation yields the same sense in a more emphatic form, and with closer conformity to Hebrew usage.

11. In our footsteps now have they surrounded us; their eyes they will set, to go astray in the land. The meaning of the first words, in our footsteps, seems to be, wherever we go. Compare Ps. 139:3, 5. For the masoretic reading us, the text has me, which, although harsher, amounts to the same thing, as the sufferer is an ideal person respecting many real ones. The parallel clauses exhibit the usual combination of the preterite and future forms, implying that what had been done was likely to be still continued. They fix their eyes, upon this as the end at which they aim. To go astray or turn aside, i.e. from the way of God’s commandments, to which the Psalmist, in ver. 5, had declared his own adherence. The translations bowing down and casting down are less in accordance with the context and with the usage of the Hebrew verb, which is constantly employed to express departure from God and aberration from the path of duty; see 1 Kings 11:9, Job 31:7, Ps. 44:19 (18), 119:51, 157. To the earth, or in the earth, although grammatical, affords a less appropriate sense than in the land, i.e. the holy land or land of promise, the local habitation of God’s people under the old economy; see above on Ps. 16:3, and compare Isaiah 26:10.

12. His likeness (is) as a lion; he is craving to tear; and as a young lion sitting in secret places. The singular suffix refers to the enemy as an ideal person. The future (יִכְסוֹף) means that he is just about to feel or gratify the appetite for blood. To tear in pieces, as a wild beast does his prey before devouring it.—Sitting, lurking, lying in wait, with special reference to the patient promptness of the wild beast in such cases.—The comparison is the same as in Ps. 10:8–10.

13. Arise, Jehovah, go before his face, make him bow, save my soul from the wicked (with) thy sword. On the meaning of the prayer that God would arise, see above on Ps. 3:8 (7).—Go before his face: the same Hebrew phrase occurs below (Ps. 95:2), in the sense of coming into one’s presence. Here the context gives it the more emphatic sense of meeting, encountering, withstanding. Make him bend or bow, as the conquered bows beneath the conqueror.—The construction of thy sword seems to be the same with that of their mouth in ver. 10. The Septuagint puts thy sword in apposition with my soul, the Vulgate with the word immediately preceding, men (who are) thy sword, as the Assyrian is said to be the rod in God’s hand (Isa. 10:5). But such a representation of the enemy as God’s chosen instruments, instead of enforcing, would enfeeble the petition. The verb translated save is a causative strictly meaning make to escape.

14. From men (with) thy hand, from the world; their portion is in (this) life, and with thy hoard thou wilt fill their belly; they shall have enough of sons, and leave their residue to their babes. All the parts of this obscure verse have been variously explained. As in the preceding verse, some here read men (which are) thy hand, i.e. the instrument of thy wrath. The difficult expression מֵחֶלֶד is by some understood as a description of their character and spirit—men of the world—men who belong to it, and whose hearts are set upon it. Others give חֶלֶד its primary meaning of duration, and make the phrase descriptive of prosperity—men of duration or perpetuity—who not only prosper now, but have long done so, and seem likely to continue. The simplest construction is that given in the prayer-book version, which takes the proposition in the same sense before both nouns—“from the men, I say, and from the evil world.” “World is then simply a collective equivalent to the plural men. This translation of the former word is justified by the analogy of Ps. 49:2 (1).—Life is by some understood to mean a life of ease or pleasure; but this is far less natural than the obvious sense of this life, this present state as distinguished from futurity. The rest of the verse shews that their desires have not been disappointed. To the eye of sense God sometimes seems to have reserved his choicest gifts for the ungodly. Thy hidden (treasure), i.e. hoarded, carefully secreted. Fill their belly, satisfy their appetite. The future form implies that the state of things described is likely to continue.—The next clause may be also rendered: (their) sons shall be satisfied, and leave their residue to their babes. This would be a strong description of prosperity continued from generation to generation. According to the version before given, the men of the world are represented as having their largest wishes gratified, not only in the number but the prosperous condition of their children; see Ps. 127:3, 128:3, 4, Job 21:11. The whole is only a description of things as they seem to man, before God’s judgments interpose to change them.

15. I in righteousness shall see thy face; I shall be satisfied in awaking with thy appearance. The pronoun expressed at the beginning of the sentence is emphatic. I, in opposition to the men described in the preceding verse. “They may rejoice in richer providential gifts, and be satisfied with what they thus possess. But I enjoy what they do not, the sense of acceptance in thy sight, righteousness, justification, recognition as a righteous person.” The ambiguity of construction in the last clause is the same both in Hebrew and in English. The preposition with may connect what follows either with awaking or with satisfied. Thus the prayer-book version reads, “And when I awake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it;” but the authorized version: “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” The latter construction is the one required by the accents, and preferred by most interpreters, the rather as the last word does not mean resemblance in the abstract, but form, shape, or visible appearance, Exod. 20:4, Num. 12:8, Deut. 4:16, 23, 25, Job 4:16. The idea here suggested is the sight of thee, exactly corresponding to behold thy face, in the parallel clause.—In awaking, or when I shall awake, is understood by some to mean, when I awake to-morrow, and from this expression they infer that the psalm was originally composed, and intended to be used, as an evening-song or prayer. See above on Ps. 3:6 (5), 4:9 (8), 5:4 (3). Others give the phrase the same sense but a wider application; in awaking, i.e. whenever I awake. As if he had said, while the men of the world think day and night of their possessions and their pleasures, I rejoice, whenever I awake, in the sight of God’s reconciled countenance and the consciousness of friendship with him. A third interpretation puts a still higher sense upon the phrase as referring to the act of awaking from the sleep of death. But this excludes too much from view the enjoyment of God’s favor and protection even here, which is the burden of the whole prayer. If the hope of future blessedness had been enough, the previous petitions would have been superfluous. The utmost that can be conceded to this view of the passage is that, by a natural association, what is here said of awaking out of sleep in this life may be extended to that great awaking which awaits us all hereafter. The same state of mind and heart which enables a man now to be contented with the partial views which he enjoys of God will prepare him to be satisfied hereafter with the beatific vision through eternity.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 70–74). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Psalm 16

Psalm 16

Psalm 16

“Michtam of David. Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16, AV)

A sufferer in imminent danger of death, expresses his strong confidence in God, ver. 1, as the sole source and author of his happiness, ver. 2, and at the same time his attachment to God’s people, ver. 3, his abhorrence of all other gods, ver. 4, his acquiescence in God’s dealings with him, ver. 5, 6, and his assured hope of future safety and blessedness, ver. 7–11.

The psalm is appropriate to the whole class of pious sufferers, of which Christ is the most illustrious representative. It is only in him, therefore, that some parts of it can be said to have received their highest and complete fulfilment. This will be shewn more fully in the exposition of the ninth and tenth verses.

1. Michtam of David. Preserve me, O God: for I have trusted in thee. Some explain Michtam as a compound term; but it is most probably a simple derivative of a verb meaning to hide, and signifies a mystery or secret. The similar word Michtab in the title of Hezekiah’s psalm (Isa. 38:9) is probably an imitation of the form here used, or at least involves an allusion to it. It seems to be substituted for the usual terms song, psalm, &c., not only here but in the titles of Ps. 55–60. It probably indicates the depth of doctrinal and spiritual import in these sacred compositions. The derivation from a noun meaning gold is much less probable. This verse may be said to contain the sum and substance of the whole psalm, and is merely amplified in what follows. The prayer, Keep, save, or preserve me, implies actual suffering or imminent danger, while the last clause, I have trusted in thee, states the ground of his assured hope and confident petition. The verb used is one that seems especially appropriate to the act of seeking shelter under some overshadowing object. See Judges 9:15, Isa. 30:2, Ps. 57:2 (1), 61:5 (4). The preterite form implies that this is no new or sudden act, but one performed already. He not only trusts in God at present, but has trusted him before. Compare Ps. 7:2 (1), 11:1.

2. Thou hast said to Jehovah, The Lord (art) thou; my good (is) not besides thee (or beyond thee). The verb in the first clause has the form of a second person feminine, which some regard as an abbreviation of the first person, אָמַרְתִּ for אָמַרְתִּי and translate accordingly, I have said. But this neither agrees so well with usage, nor affords so good a sense as the old construction, which supplies as the object of address the same that is expressed in Ps. 42:6 (5), 12 (11), 43:5, Jer. 4:19, Lam. 3:24, 25. A similar ellipsis is assumed by some in 1 Sam. 24:11, and 2 Sam. 13:39. By this peculiar form of speech the Psalmist calls upon himself to remember his own solemn acknowledgment of Jehovah as the Lord or Supreme God.—The obscure clause which follows has been very variously explained. Some understand by good moral goodness, merit, and explain the whole to mean, “My goodness is not such as to entitle me to thy regard.” Most interpreters, however, give to good its usual sense of good fortune, happiness (see Ps. 106:5, Job 9:25), and make the whole clause mean, “My happiness is not obligatory or incumbent on thee, thou art not bound to provide for it;” or “My happiness is not above thee; I have no higher happiness than thee.” The true sense is probably afforded by a modification of this last: “My happiness is not beside thee, independent of, or separable from thee,” with allusion to the form of expression in the Hebrew of the first commandment (Exod. 20:3). The verse, then, contains a twofold acknowledgment of God, as the universal sovereign, and as the only source of individual enjoyment. Compare Ps. 73:25. That this recognition was not a mere momentary act, but a habitual affection of the mind, seems to be indicated by the Psalmist’s appeal to his own soul as having made the acknowledgment already, hitherto or heretofore.

3. To (or with) the saints who (are) in the land, and the nobles in whom (is) all my delight. The construction of the first clause, and its connection with the preceding verse, are very obscure. Some make to synonymous with as to. “As to the saints who are in the land, and the nobles, in them is all my delight.” Or, “as to the saints who are in the land, they are the nobles in whom is all my delight.” Others understand to the saints and to Jehovah as correlative expressions. “To Jehovah I have said thus; to the saints thus.” Or, as the English Bible has it, “My goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints,” &c. The least violent construction seems to be that which takes the preposition in its usual sense, that of belonging to, as in the phrases, to David, to the chief Musician, and in 1 Kings 15:27. The meaning then is that the Psalmist’s recognition of Jehovah as The Lord, and as the only source of happiness, is not peculiar to himself, but common to the whole body of the saints or holy ones. This epithet denotes personal character, not as its primary meaning, but as the effect of a peculiar relation to God, as the objects of his choice, set apart from the rest of men for this very purpose; see Exod. 19:6, Deut. 7:6, Ps. 34:10 (9), Dan. 7:21, 8:24, 1 Pet. 2:9. The pre-eminence of these over others, as the fruit of the divine election, is expressed by the word nobles, which, like saints, denotes moral character only in an indirect and secondary manner. The construction in this part of the verse is strongly idiomatic; the literal translation is, the nobles of all my delight in them. Under the old dispensation, the nobles or elect of God had their local habitation in the land of promise. Hence they are here described as the “saints or consecrated ones who are in the land,” not in the earth, which would be too indefinite and not so well suited to the context. As thus explained, the whole verse may be paraphrased as follows: “This profession of my trust in God I make, not merely as an individual believer, but as one belonging to the great body of the saints or consecrated ones, the nobles of the human race, not such by any original or natural pre-eminence, but by the sovereign and distinguishing favor of Jehovah, whom they trust as I do, and are therefore the rightful objects of my warmest love.”

4. Many (or multiplied) shall be their sorrowsanother they have purchasedI will not pour their drink-offering of blood, and will not take their names upon my lips. With the happiness of those who like himself trust the Lord, he contrasts the wretchedness of those who have chosen any other object of supreme affection. The relative construction in the English version, “their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten,” &c., gives the sense correctly, but with more variation from the Hebrew idiom, which conveys the same idea by means of short independent propositions. In the word translated their sorrows, (עַצּֽבוֹתָם), there seems to be an allusion to a very similar form, which would mean their idols (עְצַבֵּיהֶם), as if to suggest that false gods are mere troubles and vexations. Another means another god, in opposition to the one true God, Jehovah, as in Isa. 42:8, 48:11. The contrast which is there expressed is here to be supplied from ver. 2 and 5, and from the general antithesis, running through the context, between God and gods, not idols merely, but any created object of supreme affection. The verb מָהַר in its derived form means to hasten, and is so translated here by the English and some other versions. But in the only other place where the primitive verb occurs (Exod. 22:15), it means to endow a wife, or secure her by the payment of a dowry, according to the ancient oriental custom. The same usage of the verb exists in several of the cognate dialects. It seems here to have the general sense of purchasing, by costly sacrifice or self-denial, but with particular allusion to the conjugal relation which is constantly described in Scripture as existing between worshippers and their gods; see Hos. 3:2, and 8:9, Ezek. 16:33, 34. In the last clause he abjures all communion with such idolaters. He will not join in their impious services, nor even name the names of their divinities. Drink-offerings of blood, libations no less loathsome than if composed of human blood, perhaps with an allusion to the frequent poetical description of wine as the blood of the grape; see Gen. 49:11, Deut. 32:14, Isa. 63:3. To take the name upon the lips is to stain or pollute them by pronouncing it. Both here and in Hos. 2:19, there is an obvious allusion to the solemn prohibition of the law (Exod. 23:13): “Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” The pronoun their, in this whole clause, refers not to the worshippers but to their divinities, as comprehended under the collective term another.

5. Jehovah (is) my allotted portion and my cup; thou wilt enlarge my lot. The other side of the contrast is again exhibited. The idea is, that in the Lord the Psalmist has all that he can wish or hope for. The figures are borrowed from the regular supply of food and drink. Compare Ps. 11:6, 23:5. There may also be allusions to the language of the Pentateuch in reference to the tribe of Levi, Deut. 10:9, 18:1, 2. The common version of the last clause, thou upholdest my lot, is neither so grammatical nor yields so good a sense as that above given, where enlarge implies both honor and abundance, and the future form expresses confident assurance that the favor now experienced will be continued.

6. The lines are fallen to me in pleasant things (or pleasant places); yea, my heritage is goodly. The lines here spoken of are those used in measuring and dividing land. Fallen, i.e. assigned, with or without allusion to the lot, as the means of distribution. Compare Num. 34:2, Judges 18:1. The idea of places is suggested by the context, or the plural adjective may have the abstract sense of pleasure, pleasures, like the cognate form in Job 36:11. The particle (אַף) which introduces the last clause is more emphatic than the simple copulative and. It properly means also, and implies that this clause contains something more than that before it. The original construction of the last clause is, a heritage is goodly to me or upon me, with allusion to the natural and common image of gifts or favors as descending from above. The heritage or portion thus described is God himself, but considered as including all desirable possessions.

7. I will bless Jehovah, who hath counselled me; also by night have my reins prompted me. He praises God for having counselled or persuaded him to choose this goodly heritage in preference to every other portion. The second clause begins with yea or also, as in the preceding verse. It here implies that, under the divine control just mentioned, his own habitual dispositions tended to the same point. By night, literally nights, an idiom not unknown in vulgar English. The plural may in this case be emphatic, meaning whole nights, all night long. The night is mentioned, both as a time naturally favorable to reflection, and as shewing that the same subject occupied his thoughts by night as well as by day; see above on Ps. 1:2. The reins are figuratively put like the heart, bowels, &c., for the affections; see above on Ps. 7:10 (9). My reins have taught me, warned me, prompted me, to utter the praise mentioned in the first clause, or to make the choice described in ver. 1, 2, 5.

8. I have set Jehovah before me always: because (he is) at my right hand, I shall not be moved. I have set him before me, i.e. I recognize his presence and confide in his protection. The actual expression of this confidence is given in the other clause. The right hand is here mentioned, not as a post of honor, but as that of a guard or defender. See below, on Ps. 109:31, 110:5, 121:5.—I shall not be moved from my secure position. See above, on Ps. 10:6, 15:5. The whole verse is a varied repetition and amplification of the last clause of ver. 1, I have trusted (or sheltered myself) in thee.—The Septuagint version of this sentence is quoted in Acts 2:25, with an express recognition of David as the author of the psalm.

9. Therefore has rejoiced my heart and exulted my glory; yea, my flesh shall dwell in security (or confidence).—Therefore, because God is my ever present helper. Glory seems here to mean his nobler part, his soul, but not as wholly separate from the body, as appears from what follows. See above, on Ps. 7:6 (5).—Flesh may either mean the body, as distinguished from the soul, or the whole person as including both. Compare Ps. 63:2 (1), 84:3 (2).—The idea of dwelling in security or confidence of safety is borrowed from the Pentateuch. See Deut. 33:12, 28, and compare Judges 18:7, Jer. 23:6, 33:16. A similar allusion has been found already in Ps. 4:9 (8). The Septuagint version of the sentence, although it substitutes tongue for glory, is substantially correct, and therefore retained in Acts 2:26.—The second clause is not simply parallel and equivalent to the first, but is rather an actual performance of the duty there described. Having there said that his heart did triumph in the certainty of God’s protection, he here proves the truth of his assertion, by professing his assured hope that his whole person, not excepting his material part, shall dwell in safety under that protection. This is applicable both to preservation from death and preservation in death, and may therefore without violence be understood, in a lower sense, of David, who did die and see corruption, but whose body is to rise again, as well as in a higher sense of Christ, whose body, though it died, was raised again before it saw corruption.

10. For thou wilt not leave my soul to Hell; thou wilt not give thy Holy One to see corruption. He now assigns the ground or reason of the confidence expressed in the preceding verse. “I am sure my soul and body will be safe, because thou canst not, without ceasing to be God and my God, give me up to the destroyer.” He does not say leave in but to, i.e. abandon to, give up to the dominion or possession of another. The same Hebrew phrase occurs, with the same sense, in Lev. 19:10, Job 39:14, and in Ps. 49:11 (10) below.—Hell is here to be taken in its wide old English sense, as corresponding to the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades, the invisible world or state of the dead. See above on Ps. 6:6 (5), and 9:18 (17).—Give, i.e. permit, or more emphatically, give up, abandon, which makes the parallelism of the clauses more exact. Thy Holy One, or more exactly, thy favorite, the object of thy special favor. See above, on Ps. 4:4 (3). The textual reading is a plural form (חסידיך), the singular (חסידך) being a marginal correction or keri. The Jews contend for the former, and most Christians for the latter, which is favored by the oldest versions and retained in the New Testament. The essential difference between the two is less than it may seem at first sight, since even the singular is really collective, and includes the whole class of God’s chosen and favored ones, of whom Christ is the head and representative.—To see, i.e. to experience or undergo corruption. Compare the phrase to see death, Luke 2:26.—It has been disputed whether שַׁחַת is derived from שׁוּחַ, and means a pit, or from שָׁחַת, and means corruption. Both allegations are probably true, the antecedent improbability of such a double sense and derivation being counterbalanced by the clear analogy of נחַת, which is of a different sense and gender, as derived from נָחַת and נוּחַ. The use of this equivocal expression may have been intentional, in order to make it applicable both to David and to Christ. (See above, on the preceding verse.) To both, the words contain a promise of deliverance from death, but in the case of Christ with a specific reference to his actual escape from the corruption which is otherwise inseparable from dissolution. Believers in general are saved from the perpetual dominion of death, but Christ was saved even from the first approach of putrefaction. In this peculiar and most pregnant sense the words are applied to Christ exclusively by two apostles, and in that sense declared to be inapplicable to David. (Acts 2:29–31, 13:35–37.) Their reasoning would utterly forbid the application to any lower subject, were it not for the ambiguity or twofold meaning of the Hebrew word, which cannot therefore be explained away without embarrassing the interpretation of this signal prophecy.

11. Thou wilt teach me the way of life, fullness of joy with thy face (or presence), pleasures in thy right hand for ever. He trusts God not only for deliverance from death, but for guidance in the way to life, or blessed immortality. (Compare Prov. 2:19.) The Hebrew verb is causative, and means thou wilt make me know, point out, or shew to me. Fullness, satiety, or rather satisfaction, in its strongest sense, including the ideas of contentment and abundance. The plural, joys, denotes not only richness but variety. The next phrase may simply mean before thy face or in thy presence. But it will also bear a stronger sense, and represent God’s presence or the right of him, not merely as the place, but the source of enjoyment. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6), and compare Ps. 17:15, 80:4 (3). So in the last clause, the idea is not merely at thy right hand as a place of honor and of safety, but in thy right hand as the depository of eternal joys, or with thy right hand, as the instrument by which they are dispensed. See below, on Ps. 17:7.—This last clause is omitted in Peter’s citation of the passage, Acts 2:27, no doubt because it is a mere poetical reiteration of the one before it, which is itself only added to complete the period, and not because it was essential to the apostle’s purpose. That purpose was accomplished by applying the two preceding verses to our Savior, not exclusively indeed, but by way of eminence and in a peculiar sense, which we learn, however, from Acts 2:30, 31, was actually present to the mind of the inspired Psalmist. The same argumentative interpretation of the prophecy is given by Paul in Acts 13:35–37.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 65–69). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Michtam of David. Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16, AV)

A sufferer in imminent danger of death, expresses his strong confidence in God, ver. 1, as the sole source and author of his happiness, ver. 2, and at the same time his attachment to God’s people, ver. 3, his abhorrence of all other gods, ver. 4, his acquiescence in God’s dealings with him, ver. 5, 6, and his assured hope of future safety and blessedness, ver. 7–11.

The psalm is appropriate to the whole class of pious sufferers, of which Christ is the most illustrious representative. It is only in him, therefore, that some parts of it can be said to have received their highest and complete fulfilment. This will be shewn more fully in the exposition of the ninth and tenth verses.

1. Michtam of David. Preserve me, O God: for I have trusted in thee. Some explain Michtam as a compound term; but it is most probably a simple derivative of a verb meaning to hide, and signifies a mystery or secret. The similar word Michtab in the title of Hezekiah’s psalm (Isa. 38:9) is probably an imitation of the form here used, or at least involves an allusion to it. It seems to be substituted for the usual terms song, psalm, &c., not only here but in the titles of Ps. 55–60. It probably indicates the depth of doctrinal and spiritual import in these sacred compositions. The derivation from a noun meaning gold is much less probable. This verse may be said to contain the sum and substance of the whole psalm, and is merely amplified in what follows. The prayer, Keep, save, or preserve me, implies actual suffering or imminent danger, while the last clause, I have trusted in thee, states the ground of his assured hope and confident petition. The verb used is one that seems especially appropriate to the act of seeking shelter under some overshadowing object. See Judges 9:15, Isa. 30:2, Ps. 57:2 (1), 61:5 (4). The preterite form implies that this is no new or sudden act, but one performed already. He not only trusts in God at present, but has trusted him before. Compare Ps. 7:2 (1), 11:1.

2. Thou hast said to Jehovah, The Lord (art) thou; my good (is) not besides thee (or beyond thee). The verb in the first clause has the form of a second person feminine, which some regard as an abbreviation of the first person, אָמַרְתִּ for אָמַרְתִּי and translate accordingly, I have said. But this neither agrees so well with usage, nor affords so good a sense as the old construction, which supplies as the object of address the same that is expressed in Ps. 42:6 (5), 12 (11), 43:5, Jer. 4:19, Lam. 3:24, 25. A similar ellipsis is assumed by some in 1 Sam. 24:11, and 2 Sam. 13:39. By this peculiar form of speech the Psalmist calls upon himself to remember his own solemn acknowledgment of Jehovah as the Lord or Supreme God.—The obscure clause which follows has been very variously explained. Some understand by good moral goodness, merit, and explain the whole to mean, “My goodness is not such as to entitle me to thy regard.” Most interpreters, however, give to good its usual sense of good fortune, happiness (see Ps. 106:5, Job 9:25), and make the whole clause mean, “My happiness is not obligatory or incumbent on thee, thou art not bound to provide for it;” or “My happiness is not above thee; I have no higher happiness than thee.” The true sense is probably afforded by a modification of this last: “My happiness is not beside thee, independent of, or separable from thee,” with allusion to the form of expression in the Hebrew of the first commandment (Exod. 20:3). The verse, then, contains a twofold acknowledgment of God, as the universal sovereign, and as the only source of individual enjoyment. Compare Ps. 73:25. That this recognition was not a mere momentary act, but a habitual affection of the mind, seems to be indicated by the Psalmist’s appeal to his own soul as having made the acknowledgment already, hitherto or heretofore.

3. To (or with) the saints who (are) in the land, and the nobles in whom (is) all my delight. The construction of the first clause, and its connection with the preceding verse, are very obscure. Some make to synonymous with as to. “As to the saints who are in the land, and the nobles, in them is all my delight.” Or, “as to the saints who are in the land, they are the nobles in whom is all my delight.” Others understand to the saints and to Jehovah as correlative expressions. “To Jehovah I have said thus; to the saints thus.” Or, as the English Bible has it, “My goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints,” &c. The least violent construction seems to be that which takes the preposition in its usual sense, that of belonging to, as in the phrases, to David, to the chief Musician, and in 1 Kings 15:27. The meaning then is that the Psalmist’s recognition of Jehovah as The Lord, and as the only source of happiness, is not peculiar to himself, but common to the whole body of the saints or holy ones. This epithet denotes personal character, not as its primary meaning, but as the effect of a peculiar relation to God, as the objects of his choice, set apart from the rest of men for this very purpose; see Exod. 19:6, Deut. 7:6, Ps. 34:10 (9), Dan. 7:21, 8:24, 1 Pet. 2:9. The pre-eminence of these over others, as the fruit of the divine election, is expressed by the word nobles, which, like saints, denotes moral character only in an indirect and secondary manner. The construction in this part of the verse is strongly idiomatic; the literal translation is, the nobles of all my delight in them. Under the old dispensation, the nobles or elect of God had their local habitation in the land of promise. Hence they are here described as the “saints or consecrated ones who are in the land,” not in the earth, which would be too indefinite and not so well suited to the context. As thus explained, the whole verse may be paraphrased as follows: “This profession of my trust in God I make, not merely as an individual believer, but as one belonging to the great body of the saints or consecrated ones, the nobles of the human race, not such by any original or natural pre-eminence, but by the sovereign and distinguishing favor of Jehovah, whom they trust as I do, and are therefore the rightful objects of my warmest love.”

4. Many (or multiplied) shall be their sorrowsanother they have purchasedI will not pour their drink-offering of blood, and will not take their names upon my lips. With the happiness of those who like himself trust the Lord, he contrasts the wretchedness of those who have chosen any other object of supreme affection. The relative construction in the English version, “their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten,” &c., gives the sense correctly, but with more variation from the Hebrew idiom, which conveys the same idea by means of short independent propositions. In the word translated their sorrows, (עַצּֽבוֹתָם), there seems to be an allusion to a very similar form, which would mean their idols (עְצַבֵּיהֶם), as if to suggest that false gods are mere troubles and vexations. Another means another god, in opposition to the one true God, Jehovah, as in Isa. 42:8, 48:11. The contrast which is there expressed is here to be supplied from ver. 2 and 5, and from the general antithesis, running through the context, between God and gods, not idols merely, but any created object of supreme affection. The verb מָהַר in its derived form means to hasten, and is so translated here by the English and some other versions. But in the only other place where the primitive verb occurs (Exod. 22:15), it means to endow a wife, or secure her by the payment of a dowry, according to the ancient oriental custom. The same usage of the verb exists in several of the cognate dialects. It seems here to have the general sense of purchasing, by costly sacrifice or self-denial, but with particular allusion to the conjugal relation which is constantly described in Scripture as existing between worshippers and their gods; see Hos. 3:2, and 8:9, Ezek. 16:33, 34. In the last clause he abjures all communion with such idolaters. He will not join in their impious services, nor even name the names of their divinities. Drink-offerings of blood, libations no less loathsome than if composed of human blood, perhaps with an allusion to the frequent poetical description of wine as the blood of the grape; see Gen. 49:11, Deut. 32:14, Isa. 63:3. To take the name upon the lips is to stain or pollute them by pronouncing it. Both here and in Hos. 2:19, there is an obvious allusion to the solemn prohibition of the law (Exod. 23:13): “Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” The pronoun their, in this whole clause, refers not to the worshippers but to their divinities, as comprehended under the collective term another.

5. Jehovah (is) my allotted portion and my cup; thou wilt enlarge my lot. The other side of the contrast is again exhibited. The idea is, that in the Lord the Psalmist has all that he can wish or hope for. The figures are borrowed from the regular supply of food and drink. Compare Ps. 11:6, 23:5. There may also be allusions to the language of the Pentateuch in reference to the tribe of Levi, Deut. 10:9, 18:1, 2. The common version of the last clause, thou upholdest my lot, is neither so grammatical nor yields so good a sense as that above given, where enlarge implies both honor and abundance, and the future form expresses confident assurance that the favor now experienced will be continued.

6. The lines are fallen to me in pleasant things (or pleasant places); yea, my heritage is goodly. The lines here spoken of are those used in measuring and dividing land. Fallen, i.e. assigned, with or without allusion to the lot, as the means of distribution. Compare Num. 34:2, Judges 18:1. The idea of places is suggested by the context, or the plural adjective may have the abstract sense of pleasure, pleasures, like the cognate form in Job 36:11. The particle (אַף) which introduces the last clause is more emphatic than the simple copulative and. It properly means also, and implies that this clause contains something more than that before it. The original construction of the last clause is, a heritage is goodly to me or upon me, with allusion to the natural and common image of gifts or favors as descending from above. The heritage or portion thus described is God himself, but considered as including all desirable possessions.

7. I will bless Jehovah, who hath counselled me; also by night have my reins prompted me. He praises God for having counselled or persuaded him to choose this goodly heritage in preference to every other portion. The second clause begins with yea or also, as in the preceding verse. It here implies that, under the divine control just mentioned, his own habitual dispositions tended to the same point. By night, literally nights, an idiom not unknown in vulgar English. The plural may in this case be emphatic, meaning whole nights, all night long. The night is mentioned, both as a time naturally favorable to reflection, and as shewing that the same subject occupied his thoughts by night as well as by day; see above on Ps. 1:2. The reins are figuratively put like the heart, bowels, &c., for the affections; see above on Ps. 7:10 (9). My reins have taught me, warned me, prompted me, to utter the praise mentioned in the first clause, or to make the choice described in ver. 1, 2, 5.

8. I have set Jehovah before me always: because (he is) at my right hand, I shall not be moved. I have set him before me, i.e. I recognize his presence and confide in his protection. The actual expression of this confidence is given in the other clause. The right hand is here mentioned, not as a post of honor, but as that of a guard or defender. See below, on Ps. 109:31, 110:5, 121:5.—I shall not be moved from my secure position. See above, on Ps. 10:6, 15:5. The whole verse is a varied repetition and amplification of the last clause of ver. 1, I have trusted (or sheltered myself) in thee.—The Septuagint version of this sentence is quoted in Acts 2:25, with an express recognition of David as the author of the psalm.

9. Therefore has rejoiced my heart and exulted my glory; yea, my flesh shall dwell in security (or confidence).—Therefore, because God is my ever present helper. Glory seems here to mean his nobler part, his soul, but not as wholly separate from the body, as appears from what follows. See above, on Ps. 7:6 (5).—Flesh may either mean the body, as distinguished from the soul, or the whole person as including both. Compare Ps. 63:2 (1), 84:3 (2).—The idea of dwelling in security or confidence of safety is borrowed from the Pentateuch. See Deut. 33:12, 28, and compare Judges 18:7, Jer. 23:6, 33:16. A similar allusion has been found already in Ps. 4:9 (8). The Septuagint version of the sentence, although it substitutes tongue for glory, is substantially correct, and therefore retained in Acts 2:26.—The second clause is not simply parallel and equivalent to the first, but is rather an actual performance of the duty there described. Having there said that his heart did triumph in the certainty of God’s protection, he here proves the truth of his assertion, by professing his assured hope that his whole person, not excepting his material part, shall dwell in safety under that protection. This is applicable both to preservation from death and preservation in death, and may therefore without violence be understood, in a lower sense, of David, who did die and see corruption, but whose body is to rise again, as well as in a higher sense of Christ, whose body, though it died, was raised again before it saw corruption.

10. For thou wilt not leave my soul to Hell; thou wilt not give thy Holy One to see corruption. He now assigns the ground or reason of the confidence expressed in the preceding verse. “I am sure my soul and body will be safe, because thou canst not, without ceasing to be God and my God, give me up to the destroyer.” He does not say leave in but to, i.e. abandon to, give up to the dominion or possession of another. The same Hebrew phrase occurs, with the same sense, in Lev. 19:10, Job 39:14, and in Ps. 49:11 (10) below.—Hell is here to be taken in its wide old English sense, as corresponding to the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades, the invisible world or state of the dead. See above on Ps. 6:6 (5), and 9:18 (17).—Give, i.e. permit, or more emphatically, give up, abandon, which makes the parallelism of the clauses more exact. Thy Holy One, or more exactly, thy favorite, the object of thy special favor. See above, on Ps. 4:4 (3). The textual reading is a plural form (חסידיך), the singular (חסידך) being a marginal correction or keri. The Jews contend for the former, and most Christians for the latter, which is favored by the oldest versions and retained in the New Testament. The essential difference between the two is less than it may seem at first sight, since even the singular is really collective, and includes the whole class of God’s chosen and favored ones, of whom Christ is the head and representative.—To see, i.e. to experience or undergo corruption. Compare the phrase to see death, Luke 2:26.—It has been disputed whether שַׁחַת is derived from שׁוּחַ, and means a pit, or from שָׁחַת, and means corruption. Both allegations are probably true, the antecedent improbability of such a double sense and derivation being counterbalanced by the clear analogy of נחַת, which is of a different sense and gender, as derived from נָחַת and נוּחַ. The use of this equivocal expression may have been intentional, in order to make it applicable both to David and to Christ. (See above, on the preceding verse.) To both, the words contain a promise of deliverance from death, but in the case of Christ with a specific reference to his actual escape from the corruption which is otherwise inseparable from dissolution. Believers in general are saved from the perpetual dominion of death, but Christ was saved even from the first approach of putrefaction. In this peculiar and most pregnant sense the words are applied to Christ exclusively by two apostles, and in that sense declared to be inapplicable to David. (Acts 2:29–31, 13:35–37.) Their reasoning would utterly forbid the application to any lower subject, were it not for the ambiguity or twofold meaning of the Hebrew word, which cannot therefore be explained away without embarrassing the interpretation of this signal prophecy.

11. Thou wilt teach me the way of life, fullness of joy with thy face (or presence), pleasures in thy right hand for ever. He trusts God not only for deliverance from death, but for guidance in the way to life, or blessed immortality. (Compare Prov. 2:19.) The Hebrew verb is causative, and means thou wilt make me know, point out, or shew to me. Fullness, satiety, or rather satisfaction, in its strongest sense, including the ideas of contentment and abundance. The plural, joys, denotes not only richness but variety. The next phrase may simply mean before thy face or in thy presence. But it will also bear a stronger sense, and represent God’s presence or the right of him, not merely as the place, but the source of enjoyment. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6), and compare Ps. 17:15, 80:4 (3). So in the last clause, the idea is not merely at thy right hand as a place of honor and of safety, but in thy right hand as the depository of eternal joys, or with thy right hand, as the instrument by which they are dispensed. See below, on Ps. 17:7.—This last clause is omitted in Peter’s citation of the passage, Acts 2:27, no doubt because it is a mere poetical reiteration of the one before it, which is itself only added to complete the period, and not because it was essential to the apostle’s purpose. That purpose was accomplished by applying the two preceding verses to our Savior, not exclusively indeed, but by way of eminence and in a peculiar sense, which we learn, however, from Acts 2:30, 31, was actually present to the mind of the inspired Psalmist. The same argumentative interpretation of the prophecy is given by Paul in Acts 13:35–37.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 65–69). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Psalm 15

Psalm 15

Psalm 15

Moral Purity

“A Psalm of David. LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15, AV)

This psalm teaches the necessity of moral purity as a condition of the divine protection. It first propounds the question who shall be admitted to God’s household, and the privileges of its inmates, ver. 1. This is answered positively, ver. 2, and negatively, ver. 3; then positively again, ver. 4, and negatively, ver. 5. The last clause of the last verse winds up by declaring, that the character just described shall experience the protection tacitly referred to in the first verse. As the contrast exhibited in this psalm and the fourteenth may account for its position in the Psalter, so its obvious resemblance to the twenty-fourth makes it not improbable that their historical occasion was identical.

1. A Psalm by David. Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tent? who shall dwell in thy hill of holiness? The holy hill is Zion, as in Ps. 2:6; the tent is the tabernacle which David pitched there for the ark, when he removed it from Gibeon (2 Sam. 6:17, 1 Chron. 15:1, 16:1, 39, 2 Chron. 1:3–5). Both together signify the earthly residence of God; see above on Ps. 3:5 (4). The idea is not that of frequenting Zion as a place of worship, but of dwelling there, as a guest or as an inmate of God’s family. The same figure for intimate communion with Jehovah, and participation of his favor, reappears in Ps. 23:6, 27:4, 5, 24:3, 61:5, 65:5 (4), 84:5 (4). So too, in Eph. 2:19, believers are described as members of God’s family (οἰχεῖοι τοῦ Θεοῦ).

2. Walking perfect, and doing right, and speaking truth, in his heart. The Psalmist, speaking in behalf of God, here answers his own question. The only person who can be admitted to domestic intercourse with God is one walking perfect, &c. Walking is put for the habitual course of life (see above, on Ps. 1:1). Perfect, complete, as to all essential features of the character, without necessarily implying perfection in degree. The form of expression seems to be borrowed from Gen. 17:1. A remarkably analogous expression is that used by Horace: integer vitae scelerisque purus. The next phrase, doing right, practicing rectitude, may be either a synonymous parallel to the first, or a specification under it, parallel to speaking truth. The general idea of walking perfect is then resolved into the two particular ideas of doing right and speaking truth. In his heart, i.e. sincerely, as opposed to outward show or hypocritical profession. This phrase seems to qualify not merely what precedes, speaking truth, but the whole description, as of one who sincerely and internally, as well as outwardly, leads a blameless life by doing right and speaking truth.

3. (Who) hath not slandered with his tongue, (who) hath not done his neighbor harm, and a scandal hath not taken up against his neighbor. The positive description of the foregoing verse is now followed by a negative one. (Compare Ps. 1:1, 2). The social virtues are insisted on, and their opposites excluded, because they are apt to be neglected by hypocrites, against whom this psalm is directed. The past tense of the verbs denotes a character already marked and determined by the previous course of life. The verb רגל seems strictly to denote the act of busy or officious tale-bearing. There seems to be an allusion to Lev. 19:16. With his tongue, literally on his tongue, as we say to live on, i.e. by means of anything, an idiom which occurs in Gen. 27:40. (Compare Isa. 38:16.) The next clause adds deed to word, as in the foregoing verse. Scandal, reproach, defamatory accusation. The verb נשא is by some explained as meaning to take up upon the lips (Ps. 16:4), and then to utter or pronounce. Others give it the same sense as in Gen. 31:17, where נשא על means to lift up upon, i.e. to burden. The idea then is, that he has not helped to load his neighbor with reproach. Friend and neighbor does not mean any other man, but one sustaining a peculiarly intimate relation, such as that of the members of the chosen people to each other. See above, on Ps. 12:3 (2).

4. Despised in his eyes (is) a reprobate, and the fearers of Jehovah he will honor; he hath sworn to his own hurt, and will not change. The Chaldee Paraphrase, followed by the Prayer Book version, makes the first clause descriptive of humility. He is despised in his own eyes (and) rejected. But the parallelism with the next clause shews that a contrast was designed between his estimation of two opposite classes, and as one of these is those who fear Jehovah, the other must be represented by נמאס, rejected, i.e. by Jehovah, reprobate. The future form, as usual, suggests the idea of a present act repeated or continued in the future. He honors, and will still persist in honoring, the fearers of Jehovah. The Septuagint and Vulgate explain להרע to the neighbor, and some modern versions to the bad (man). But the sense is determined by the obvious allusion to Lev. 5:4: “if a soul swear to do evil (להרע) or to do good,” i.e. whether to his own advantage or the contrary. So here the phrase must mean “he hath sworn to injure (himself)” not designedly, but so as to produce that effect. He will not change, literally, exchange, i.e. substitute something else for what he has promised.

5. His silver he hath not given for usury, and a bribe against a guiltless (person) hath not taken. Doing these (things), he shall not be moved for ever. In Hebrew as in French, silver is put for money in general. There is obvious allusion to the frequent prohibition in the Mosaic law, not of lending money upon interest for commercial purposes, a practice then unknown, but of usurious lending to the poor, and especially to poor Israelites. See Exod. 22:24, Lev. 25:37, Deut. 23:20, and compare Prov. 28:8, Ezek. 18:8. The taking of judicial bribes is also expressly forbidden in Exod. 23:8, Deut. 16:19, 27:25. The masoretic interpunction of this sentence seems to be merely rhythmical or musical, as in Ps. 11:5. The words doing these cannot be separated from what follows without destroying the sense. This last clause is an answer to the question in ver. 1, but with a change of form, implying that admission to God’s household was itself security against all danger. Compare Ps. 55:23 (22). For the sense of אֶמּוֹט, see above, on Ps. 10:6, 13:5.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 63–64). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Psalm 11

Psalm 11

“To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. In the Lord put I my trust: How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, They make ready their arrow upon the string, That they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. If the foundations be destroyed, What can the righteous do? The Lord is in his holy temple, The Lord’s throne is in heaven: His eyes behold, His eyelids try, the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous: But the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, And an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; His countenance doth behold the upright.” (Psalm 11, KJV 1900)

The Psalmist is advised, by friends or foes, to escape by flight from the inextricable difficulties in which he finds himself involved, ver. 1–3. This he refuses to do, as inconsistent with his faith in the righteousness and grace of God, ver. 4–7. The logical relation of these parts makes the form of the whole somewhat dramatic, although this peculiarity is much less marked than in the second psalm. The language is not so much that of an historical person as of an ideal sufferer, representing the whole class of persecuted innocents. There is no specific reference to any incidents in David’s life, although some of the images were probably suggested by his recollections, both of Saul’s persecution and of Absalom’s rebellion. The general resemblance of this psalm to that before it, and the special resemblance of ver. 2 to Ps. 10:8, 9, may account for its position in the Psalter. The very difficulties of this psalm are proofs of its antiquity and strong corroborations of the title, which ascribes it to David.

1. To the chief musician, belonging to him as the performer, and to David, as the author. In Jehovah I have trusted, and do still trust. How will (or can) ye say to my soul, Flee (to) your mountain (as) a bird? The profession of confidence in God at the beginning is the ground of the following interrogation, which implies wonder and disapprobation. How can ye say so? really means, ye should not say so. The question seems to be addressed to timid or desponding friends, rather than to taunting and exulting enemies, as some suppose.—To my soul does not simply mean to me, but so as to affect my feelings. See above, on Ps. 3:3 (2). In the genuine text the verb flee is plural, because addressed to the whole class represented by the ideal sufferer in this case. Hence the frequent change of number throughout the psalm. See above, on Ps. 10:10. The exhortation to flee must be understood as implying that there is no longer any hope of safety.—To your mountain, as a customary place of refuge, not for birds, but for persecuted men. The comparison with a bird has no particular connection with this clause, but is a kind of after-thought, suggesting the idea of a solitary helpless fugitive. (Compare 1 Sam. 26:20, and Lam. 3:52). There may be an allusion to the words of the angel in Gen. 19:17, as there certainly is to one or both these places in our Lord’s exhortation to his followers, Matt. 24:16.

2. For lo, the wicked will tread (i.e. bend) the bow; they have fixed their arrow on the string, to shoot in darkness at the straightforward (upright) of heart. These are still the words of the advisers introduced in the preceding verse, assigning a reason for the advice there given.—Tread the bow; see above, on Ps. 7:13 (12). Will tread, are about to tread, are treading. The preterite which follows refers to a later point of time. The speakers are supposed to describe what they see actually passing. “They are bending the bow, (and now) they have fixed the arrow on the string.” The graphic vividness of the description is impaired, if not destroyed, by giving both the verbs a present form.—Fixed, i.e. in its proper place. The same verb occurs above, in Ps. 7:13 (12). Make ready is too vague in the case before us.—In darkness, in the dark, in secret, treacherously. See above, Ps. 10:8. 9.—The straight of heart, the upright and sincere. We do not use the adjective in this sense; but we have the cognate substantive, rectitude, which properly means straightness.

3. For the pillars (or foundations) will be (are about to be) destroyed: what has the righteous done, i.e. accomplished? The pillars or foundations are those of social order or society itself. These are said to be destroyed, when truth and righteousness prevail no longer, but the intercourse of men is governed by mere selfishness. The question in the last clause implies that the righteous has effected nothing, in opposition to the prevalent iniquity. The past tense represents this as a matter of actual experience, but as one which still continues. The substitution of any other form in the translation is gratuitous and ungrammatical. The true relation of the tenses is correctly given in the Prayer Book Version. For the foundations will be cast down, and what hath the righteous done?

4. Jehovah (is) in his palace (or temple) of holiness; Jehovah (or as to Jehovah), in the heavens (is) his throne. His eyes behold, his eyelids prove the sons of men. He is so exalted that he can see, and so holy that he must see and judge the conduct of his creatures. By an equally grammatical but less natural construction, the whole verse may be thrown into a single proposition. “Jehovah in his holy temple, Jehovah whose throne is in heaven, his eyes,” &c.—For the meaning of the word translated temple, see above on Ps. 5:8 (7).—Eyelids are mentioned as a poetical parallel to eyes, being the nearest equivalent afforded by the language.—Try or prove, as if by seeing through them. With the whole verse compare Ps. 102:20 (19).

5. Jehovah the righteous will prove, will prove the righteous, and the wicked and the lover of violence his soul hates. The sentence might also be divided thus: Jehovah will prove the righteous and the wicked, and the lover of violence his soul hates. Different from both is the masoretic interpunction, which seems, however to be rather musical than grammatical or logical.—The divine proof or trial of the righteous implies favor and approval like the knowledge spoken of in Ps. 1:6; but in neither case is it expressed. Violence, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty. See above, on Ps. 7:17 (16). His soul has hated and still hates. This is not simply equivalent to he hates, but denotes a cordial hatred. Odit ex animo. He hates with all his heart.

6. He will rain on wicked (men) snares, fire and brimstone, and a raging wind, the portion of their cup. The mixed metaphors shew that the whole description is a tropical one, in which the strongest figures elsewhere used, to signify destruction as an effect of the divine wrath, are combined. Rain is a natural and common figure for any copious communication from above, whether of good or evil. Snares are a favorite metaphor of David for inextricable difficulties. See above, 7:16 (15), 9:16 (15), 10:9.—Fire and brimstone are familiar types of sudden and complete destruction, with constant reference to the great historical example of Sodom and Gomorrah. See Gen. 19:24, and compare Ezek. 38:22, Job 18:16.—Raging wind, literally wind (or blast) of furies, is another natural but independent emblem of sudden irresistible inflictions. The second Hebrew word is elsewhere used for strong indignation (Ps. 119:53), and is once applied to the ragings (or ravages) of famine. (Lam. 5:10.)—The portion of their cup, or their cup-portion, something measured out for them to drink, according to the frequent Scriptural representation, both of God’s wrath and favor, as a draught, or as the cup containing it. Compare Ps. 16:5, 23:5, with Mat. 20:22, 23, 26:39. The meaning of the whole verse is that, notwithstanding the present security of the ungodly, they shall, sooner or later, be abundantly visited with every variety of destructive judgment.

7. For righteous (is) Jehovah; righteousness he loves; the upright (man) shall his face behold. The for suggests the intimate connection between God’s judgment on the wicked and his favor to the righteous. The second clause is a necessary inference from the first. The nature of God determines his judgments and his acts. He who is righteous in himself cannot but approve of righteousness in others. The righteousness of others is in fact nothing more than conformity to his will and nature. Nor does he merely approve of righteousness in the abstract; he rewards it in the person of the righteous man. This idea is expressed in the last clause, which admits of the several constructions. It may mean that the upright shall behold his face, i.e. enjoy his favorable presence, as in Ps. 17:15. But the collocation of the singular noun and the plural verb, with the analogy of ver. 4 above, is in favour of a different construction: his face shall behold (or does behold) the righteous, i.e. view them with favor and affection. Because the original expression is not properly his face, but their face or faces, Luther explains this as a reason why God loves the righteous, to wit, because their faces look upon (the) right, or that which is right. Another construction, founded on the same fact, is, the righteous shall behold (it with) their faces. It is better, however, to regard this as an instance of that remarkable idiom in Hebrew, which applies to the One True God, verbs, nouns, and pronouns in the plural, and which some explain as a pluralis majestaticus, like that employed by kings at present, and others as a form of speech transferred from polytheism to the true religion. Most probably, however, it was intended to express the fulness of perfection in the divine nature, not without a mystical allusion to the personal distinction in the Godhead. The most remarkable examples of this usage may be found in Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, Job. 35:10, Ps. 58:12, Eccles. 12:1, Isa. 6:8, 54:6.—The face is here, like the eyelids in ver. 4, a poetical equivalent to eyes, and the same parallelism reappears in Ps. 34:16, 17 (15, 16): “the eyes of Jehovah (are) towards the righteous;” “the face of Jehovah (is) against evil-doers.”[1]

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 52–55). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Psalm 10

Psalm 10

“Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: Let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, And blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth. The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. His ways are always grievous; Thy judgments are far above out of his sight: As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: For I shall never be in adversity. His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: Under his tongue is mischief and vanity. He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: In the secret places doth he murder the innocent: His eyes are privily set against the poor. He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: He lieth in wait to catch the poor: He doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net. He croucheth, and humbleth himself, That the poor may fall by his strong ones. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: He hideth his face; he will never see it. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: Forget not the humble. Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it. Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, To requite it with thy hand: The poor committeth himself unto thee; Thou art the helper of the fatherless. Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: Seek out his wickedness till thou find none. The Lord is King for ever and ever: The heathen are perished out of his land. Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: Thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, That the man of the earth may no more oppress.” (Psalm 10, KJV 1900)

The Psalmist complains of God’s neglect, and of the malice of his enemies, ver. 1–11. He prays that both these subjects of complaint may be removed, ver. 12–15. He expresses the most confident assurance that his prayer will be heard and answered, ver. 16–18.

The Septuagint and Vulgate unite this with the ninth psalm as a single composition. But each is complete in itself, and the remarkable coincidences even of expression only shew that both were meant to form a pair or double psalm like the first and second, third and fourth, &c. From the same facts it is clear, that this psalm, though anonymous, is, like the ninth, the work of David, and that both were probably composed about the same time.

1. For what (cause), why, O Jehovah, wilt thou stand afar, wilt thou hide at times (when we are) in trouble? The question really propounded is, how this inaction can be reconciled with what was said of God in Ps. 9:10 (9).—To stand afar off, is to act as an indifferent, or, at the most, a curious spectator. Wilt thou hide, i.e. thyself or thine eyes, by refusing to see, as in Lev. 20:4, 1 Sam. 12:3. The futures imply present action and the prospect of continuance hereafter. The question is not merely why he does so, but why he still persists in doing so. The singular phrase, at times in trouble, occurs only here and in Ps. 9:10 (9), a strong proof of the intimate connection of the two psalms, and perhaps of their contemporary composition. This expostulation betrays no defect either of reverence or faith, but, on the contrary, indicates a firm belief that God is able, and must be willing, to deliver his own people. Such demands are never uttered either by skepticism or despair.

2. In the pride of the wicked burns the sufferer; they are caught in devices which they have contrived. This very obscure verse admits of several different constructions. The first verb sometimes means to persecute, literally to burn after, or pursue hotly. Gen. 31:36; 1 Sam. 17:53. In one case it seems to have this meaning even without the preposition after. Lam. 4:19. The sense would then be, in the pride of the wicked he will persecute, &c. But the collocation of the words seems to point out עָנִי as the subject, not the object, of the verb. The sufferer’s burning may denote either anger or anguish, or a mixed feeling of indignant sorrow.—The adjective עָנִי means afflicted, suffering, whether from poverty or pain. Poor is therefore too specific a translation. In the Psalms this word is commonly applied to innocent sufferers, and especially to the people of God, as objects of malignant persecution. It thus suggests the accessory idea, which it does not formally express, of righteousness or piety.—In the last clause there is some doubt as to the subject of the first verb. If referred to the wicked, the sense will be, that they are taken in their own devices. If to the poor, that they are caught in the devices of the wicked. The first is favored by the analogy of Ps. 7:15–17 (14–16), and Ps. 9:16, 17 (15, 16). But the other agrees better with the context, as a description of successful wickedness.

3. For a wicked (man) boasts of (or simply praises) the desire of his soul, and winning (i.e. when he wins), blesses, despises Jehovah. This seems to be a description of the last stage of corruption, in which men openly defend or applaud their own vices, and impiously thank God for their dishonest gains and other iniquitous successes.—The preterite forms, has praised, &c., denote that it always has been so, as a matter of familiar experience. The desire of his soul means his natural selfish inclination, his heart’s lust. And winning, i.e. when he wins or gains his end, with special reference to increase of wealth. Hence the word is sometimes used to signify the covetous or avaricious grasper after wealth by fraud or force. The same participle, joined with a cognate noun, is rendered “greedy of gain” in Prov. 1:19, 15:27, and “given to covetousness” in Jer. 6:3, 8:10. See also Hab. 2:9, where the true sense is given in the margin of the English Bible.—He who gains an evil gain blesses (and) despises Jehovah, i.e. expresses his contempt of him by thanking him, whether in jest or earnest, for his own success. He blesses God, and thereby shews that he despises him. An illustrative parallel is Zech. 11:4, 5. “Thus saith the Lord my God, Feed the flock of the slaughter, whose possessors slay them and hold themselves not guilty, and they that sell them say, Blessed is the Lord, for I am rich.” This parallel, moreover, shews that blesses, in the verse before us, does not mean blesses himself, as some suppose, but blesses God.

4. A wicked (man), according to his pride, will not seek. There is no God (are) all his thoughts. Pride is here expressed by one of its outward indications, loftiness of look, or as some suppose the Hebrew phrase to signify originally, elevation of the nose.—Will not seek, i.e. seek God in prayer (Ps. 34:4), or in the wider sense of worship (Ps. 14:2), or in that of inquiring the divine will (Gen. 25:22), all which religions acts are at variance with the pride of the human heart.—All his thoughts, not merely his opinions, but his plans, his purposes, which is the proper meaning of the Hebrew word. The language of his life is, that there is no God.—Another construction of the first clause is as follows. The wicked, according to his pride (says), He, i.e. God will not require, judicially investigate and punish, as in Ps. 9:13 (12), and in ver. 13 below, where there seems to be a reference to the words before us, as uttered by the wicked man himself.—A third construction thus avoids the necessity of supplying says.—‘As to the wicked in his pride—He will not require, there is no God—are all his thoughts.” This may be transferred into our idiom as follows: All the thoughts of the wicked in his pride are, that God will not require, or rather that there is no God. In favor of the first construction given is the fact that it requires nothing to be supplied like the second, and does not disturb the parallelism of the clauses like the third. Common to all is the imputation of proud self-confidence and practical atheism to the sinner.

5. His ways are firm, or will be firm, in all time, always. A height, or high thing, (are) thy judgments from before him, away from him, out of his sight. (As for) his enemies he will puff at them, as a natural expression of contempt, or he will blow upon them, i.e. blow them away, scatter them, with ease. This describes the prosperity and success of sinners, not only as a fact already familiar, but as something which is likely to continue. Hence the future forms, which indicate continuance hereafter, just as the preterites in ver. 3 indicate actual experience.—The only other sense which can be put upon the first clause is, his ways are twisted, i.e. his actions are perverse. But the Chaldee paraphrase, the cognate dialects, and the analogy of Job 20:21, are in favor of the rendering, his ways are strong, i.e. his fortunes are secure, his life is prosperous, which moreover agrees best with the remainder of the verse, as a description of the sinner’s outward state. Thus understood, the second clause describes him as untouched or unaffected by God’s providential judgments, and the third as easily ridding himself of all his human adversaries. Both together represent him as impregnable on all sides, in appearance equally beyond the reach of God and man. (Compare Luke 18:2, 4.) As this immunity from danger, strictly understood, could exist only in appearance, the whole verse may be regarded as an expression of the sinner’s own opinion rather than his true condition.

6. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved; to generation and generation, (I am one) who (shall) not (be) in evil, or as the same Hebrew phrase is rendered in the English version of Exod. 5:19, in evil case, i.e. in trouble, in distress. This is a natural expression of the proud security engendered in the natural man by great prosperity. He hath said, implying that the cause has already been in operation long enough to shew its natural effect. In his heart, to himself, in a spirit of self-gratulation and self-confidence. To age and age, throughout all ages or all generations. The strength of this expression shews that the speaker is not a real person, but the ideal type of a whole class. The sinner, who thus says in his heart, is not the sinner of one period or country, but the sinner of all times and places, one who never disappears, or ceases thus to feel and act.—The form of the last clause in Hebrew is peculiar and emphatic. He does not simply say, I shall never be in evil or adversity, but I am he, I am the man, who shall never be in evil, as if the very supposition of such a contingency, however justified by general experience, would be not only groundless but absurd in this one case. (Compare Isaiah 47:8–10.) There could scarcely be a stronger expression of the self-relying spirit of the sinner, as contrasted with the saints’ implicit confidence in God’s will and power, not only to preserve him from falling, but to raise him when he does fall.

7. (Of) cursing his mouth is full, and deceits, and oppression. Under his tongue (are) trouble and iniquity. He now gives a more particular description of the wicked man, beginning with his sins against his neighbor, and among these, with his sins of word or speech. If this be a correct view of the whole verse, the cursing, mentioned in the first clause, is most probably false swearing, or the invocation of God’s name, and imprecation of his wrath upon one’s self, in attestation of a falsehood. This kind of cursing is closely connected with the fraud and violence which follow. The Hebrew word תֹּךְ, to which the older writers gave the sense of fraud, is now commonly explained to mean oppression; so that with the noun preceding, it denotes injustice, injury to others, both by fraud and violence.—Under the tongue may have reference to the poison of serpents, or to the use of the tongue for speaking, as in Ps. 66:17, where the same phrase occurs in the original, though not in the common version.—Toil, labor, trouble, endured by others as the consequence of his deceits and violence.—For the meaning of the last word in the verse, see above, on Ps. 5:6 (5).—Oppression is here reckoned among sins of speech, because the latter may be made the means of violent injustice, by tyrannical command, by unjust judgment, or by instigating others to deprive the victim of his rights. If only fraud had been referred to, this description of the sins committed with the tongue would have been palpably defective.

8. He will sit in the lurking-place of villages; in the secret places he will slay the innocent; his eyes for the sufferer will hide, watch secretly, or lie in wait. From sins of word he now proceeds to those of deed or outward action. The wicked enemy is here represented as a robber. The futures, as in ver. 5, imply that what is now is likely to continue. Sitting implies patient waiting for his prey or victim. The lurking-place, the place where murderers and robbers usually lurk or lie in wait. Where such crimes are habitually practiced, there is commonly some spot especially associated with them, either as the scene of the iniquity itself, or as a place of refuge and resort to those who perpetrate it.—The mention of villages is no proof that the psalm relates to any specific case of lawless violence, but only that the Psalmist gives individuality to his description by traits directly drawn from real life. A slight change in the form of expression would convert it into a poetic simile. ‘As the robber sits in the lurking-place of villages,’ &c. The verb hide has the same sense as in Prov. 1:11, 18.—The word translated sufferer (חַֽלְכָה for חֵֽילְךָ) is peculiar to this psalm, and was not improbably coined for the occasion, as a kind of enigmatical description, in which David seems to have delighted. A Jewish tradition makes it mean thy host, i.e. the church of God; but this, besides being forced in itself, is forbidden by the use of the plural in ver. 10 below. Others derive it from an Arabic root, meaning to be black, dark, gloomy, sad, unhappy. A third hypothesis explains it as a compound of two Hebrew words, one meaning weak or sick, the other sad or sorrowful, and both together representing the object of the enemy’s malice, in the strongest light, as a sufferer both in mind and body.

9. He will lurk in the hiding-place as a lion in his den; he will lurk (or lie in wait) to catch the sufferer; he will catch the sufferer by drawing him into his net, or in drawing him (towards him) with his net. That the preceding verse contains a simile, and not a description of the enemy as an actual robber, is here rendered evident by the addition of two new comparisons, applied to the same object. In the first clause he is compared to a lion, in the second to a hunter. See above, on Ps. 7:16 (15), 9:16 (15), and below, on Ps. 35:7, 57:7 (6). The force of the futures is the same as in the foregoing verse.—His den, his shelter, covert, hiding-place. The Hebrew word is commonly applied to any temporary shed or booth, composed of leaves and branches. He lies in wait to seize the prey, and he succeeds, he accomplishes his purpose. A third possible construction of the last clause is, in his drawing (i.e. when he draws) his net. The whole verse, with the one before it, represents the wicked as employing craft no less than force for the destruction of the righteous.

10. And bruised he will sink; and by (or in, i.e. into the power of) his strong ones fall the sufferers, the victims. These are represented, in the first clause, by a collective singular, and in the second by a plural proper, that of the unusual word used in ver. 8 above. Its peculiar etymology and form might be imitated in an English compound, such as sick-sad, weak-sad, or the like. By his strong ones some would understand the strong parts of the lion, teeth, claws, &c.; others the same parts personified as warriors. But even in the foregoing verse, the figure of a lion is exchanged for that of a hunter; and this again gives place here to that of a military leader or a chief of robbers, thus insensibly returning to the imagery of ver. 8. These numerous and rapid changes, although not in accordance with the rules of artificial rhetoric, add greatly to the life of the description, and are not without their exegetical importance, as evincing that the whole is metaphorical, a varied tropical exhibition of one and the same object, the combined craft and cruelty of wicked men, considered as the enemies of God and of his people. According to this view of the passage, by his strong ones we may understand the followers of the hostile chief, those who help him and execute his orders, or the ideal enemy himself, before considered as an individual, but now resolved into the many individuals, of whom the class which he represents is really composed.

11. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten, he hath hidden his face, he hath not seen, doth not see, and will not see, forever. The opening words are the same, and have the same sense, as in ver. 6 above. The three parallel clauses which follow all express the same idea, namely, that God takes no note of human offences. This is first expressed by the figure of forgetfulness; then by that of deliberately refusing to see, as in ver. 1 above; then by a literal and direct affirmation that he does not see, either the sufferings of his people or the malice of their enemies; and that this is not a transient or occasional neglect, but one likely to continue forever.

12. Arise, Jehovah! Almighty (God), raise thy hand! Forget not sufferers (or the wretched)! The impious incredulity, expressed in the preceding verse, is now made the ground of an importunate petition. God is besought to do away with the appearance of inaction and indifference. See above, on Ps. 7:7 (6). Raise thy hand, exert thy power. The second name by which God is addressed (אֵל) is one expressive of omnipotence, and may be correctly rendered by our phrase, Almighty God. As the name Jehovah appeals to his covenant relation to his people, as a reason for granting their requests, so this invokes his power as necessary to their deliverance and the vindication of his own honor from the imputation of forgetfulness cast upon him by his enemies. This imputation he is entreated, in the last clause, to wipe off by shewing that he does remember. Forget not is, in this connection, tantamount to saying, shew that thou dost not forget. Here, as in Ps. 9:13 (12), the margin of the Hebrew Bible reads (ענוים) meek or humble, while the text has (עניים) suffering or afflicted. The Kethib, or textual reading, is regarded by the highest critical authorities as the more ancient, and therefore, except in some rare cases, entitled to the preference.

13. On what (ground) has the wicked contemned God, has he said in his heart, Thou wilt not require? The question implies the sin and folly of the conduct described. The past tense suggests the inquiry why it has been suffered to go on so long. Contemned, i.e. treated with contempt. The reference is not to inward feeling merely, but to its external manifestation. The second clause shews how the feeling has been manifested. Said in his heart, is here repeated for the third time in this psalm. See ver. 6, 11, above. The direct address to God in the last clause is peculiarly emphatic. The wicked man not only speaks irreverently of him, but insults him to his face. Thou wilt not require. The Hebrew verb includes the ideas of investigation and exaction. Thou wilt not inquire into my conduct, or require an account of it. See ver. 4 above, and compare Ps. 9:13 (12). The whole verse contains an indirect expostulation or complaint of the divine forbearance towards such high-handed and incorrigible sinners.

14. Thou hast seen (this particular instance of iniquity); for trouble, the suffering occasioned by such sins, and provocation, that afforded by such sins, thou wilt behold, it is thy purpose and thy habit to behold it, to give with thy hand a becoming recompense, or to give into thy hand, i.e. to lay it up there in reserve, as something to be recompensed hereafter. Upon thee the sufferer wilt leave (his burden), will rely. An orphan, here put for the whole class of innocent and helpless sufferers, thou hast been helping; God has ever been a helper of the friendless, and may therefore be expected to do likewise now. The whole verse is an argument drawn from the general course of the divine administration. Hence the preterite and future forms. Thou hast seen in this case, for thou always wilt see in such cases. For the meaning of trouble and provocation, see above, on Ps. 6:8 (7), 7:15 (14).

15. Break thou the arm, destroy the power, of the wicked, and the bad (man), or as to the bad man, thou wilt seek for his wickedness (and) not find it. This may either mean, thou wilt utterly destroy him and his wickedness, so that when sought for it cannot be found (Ps. 37:36), or thou wilt judicially investigate his guilt, and punish it till nothing more is left to punish. The Hebrew verb (דרש) has then the same sense as in ver. 4, 13, above, and there is a direct allusion to the sinner’s boast that God will not inquire into men’s acts or require an account of them. There may be a latent irony or sarcasm, as if he had said, Thou wilt find nothing, as he boasts, but in a very different sense; not because there is nothing worthy of punishment, but because there will be nothing left unpunished.

16. Jehovah (is) king! He is not dethroned, as his enemies imagine; he is still king, and will so remain, perpetuity and eternity, for ever and ever. Lost, perished, are nations, the heathen, i.e. hostile nations, from, out of, his land, the Holy Land, the Land of Israel, the land of which he is the king in a peculiar sense, distinct from that of providential ruler. The Psalmist sees Jehovah still enthroned, not only as the sovereign of the world, but as the sovereign of his people. (See Num. 23:21, Deut. 33:5). The stations or heathen of this verse may be either literal or spiritual gentiles (Jer. 9:25, Ezek. 16:3). The psalm is so framed as to express the feelings of God’s people in various emergencies. The preterite tense in the last clause represents the destruction of God’s enemies as already past, not only on account of its absolute certainty, but because the process of destruction, although not completed, is begun and will infallibly continue. Here, as often elsewhere, earnest prayer is followed by the strongest expression of confidence and hope.

17. The desire of the meek (or humble) thou hast heard, Jehovah! Their desire is already accomplished. And this not merely once for all. Thou wilt settle (or confirm) their heart, i.e. dispel their fears and give them courage, by new assurances of favor and repeated answers to their prayers. Thou wilt incline thine ear, or make it attentive, cause it to listen, to their future no less than their past petitions. The figure of a fixed or settled heart recurs more than once below. See Ps. 51:12 (10), 57:8 (7), 112:7. The essential idea is that of a firm resolution, as opposed to timid doubt and vacillation.

18. To judge, or do justice to, the orphan and the bruised, or oppressed. See above, on Ps. 9:10 (9). This clause seems properly to form a part of the preceding verse; thou wilt incline thine ear to judge, &c. The remainder of the verse is a distinct proposition. He shall not add (or continue) any longer to resist, or defy, i.e. to set God at defiance. The subject of these verbs is placed last for the sake of greater emphasis. Man, frail man, from the earth, springing from it, and belonging to it; see Gen. 3:19. For the full sense of the word translated man, see above, on Ps. 8:5 (4), 9:20 (19), and compare the whole prayer in the latter passage with the one before us. The sense here is, that weak and short-lived man shall not continue to insult and defy Almighty God. It implies a wish or prayer, but is in form a strong expression of the Psalmist’s confident assurance that it will be so, and in connection with the similar expressions of the two preceding verses, forms a worthy and appropriate close of the entire composition. The original of this verse is commonly supposed to exhibit an example of the figure called paronomasia, an intentional resemblance, both in form and sound, between two words of very different meaning. The words supposed to be so related here are those translated to defy (ערץ) and earth (ארץ). This peculiarity of form, if really designed and significant, is one which cannot be completely reproduced in any version. There is reason to suspect, however, that in this, as in many other cases, the resemblance is fortuitous, like that which frequently occurs in a translation, without anything to match it in the original; e.g. in the Vulgate version of Gen. 8:22, æstus and æstas, and in that of Gen. 12:16, oves et boves.[1]

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 46–52). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Psalm 9

Psalm 9

“I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. When my enemies turn back, They shall fall and perish at Your presence. For You have maintained my right and my cause; You sat on the throne judging in righteousness. You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked; You have blotted out their name forever and ever. O enemy, destructions are finished forever! And you have destroyed cities; Even their memory has perished. But the Lord shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgment. He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness. The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people. When He avenges blood, He remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the humble. Have mercy on me, O Lord! Consider my trouble from those who hate me, You who lift me up from the gates of death, That I may tell of all Your praise In the gates of the daughter of Zion. I will rejoice in Your salvation. The nations have sunk down in the pit which they made; In the net which they hid, their own foot is caught. The Lord is known by the judgment He executes; The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Meditation. Selah The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God. For the needy shall not always be forgotten; The expectation of the poor shall not perish forever. Arise, O Lord, Do not let man prevail; Let the nations be judged in Your sight. Put them in fear, O Lord, That the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah” (Psalm 9:1–20, NKJV)


THIS psalm expresses, in a series of natural and striking alternations, gratitude for past deliverances, trust in God’s power and disposition to repeat them, and direct and earnest prayer for such repetition. We have first the acknowledgment of former mercies, ver. 2–7 (1–6); then the expression of trust for the future, ver. 8–13 (7–12); then the petition founded on it, ver. 14, 15 (13, 14). The same succession of ideas is repeated: recollection of the past, ver. 16, 17 (15, 16); anticipation of the future, ver. 18, 19 (17, 18); prayer for present and immediate help, ver. 20, 21 (19, 20). This parallelism of the parts makes the structure of the psalm remarkably like that of the seventh. The composition was intentionally so framed as to be a vehicle of pious feeling to the church at any period of strife and persecution. The form is that of the Old Testament; but the substance and the spirit are common to both dispensations.

1. To the Chief Musician, Al-muth-labben. This enigmatical title has been variously explained. Some understand it as descriptive of the subject, and make labben an anagram of Nabal, the name of one of David’s enemies, and, at the same time, an appellative denoting fool, in which sense it is frequently applied to the wicked; see, for example, Ps. 14:1. The whole would then mean on the death of the fool, i.e. the sinner. Such enigmatical changes are supposed to occur in Jer. 25:26, 51:1, 41; Zech. 9:1. Others, by a change of pointing in the Hebrew, for al-muth read alamoth, a musical term occurring in the title of Ps. 46, or a cognate form almuth, and explain labben to mean for Ben, or the (children of) Ben, one of the Levitical singers mentioned in 1 Chron. 15:18. Neither of these explanations seem so natural as a third, which supposes muth-labben to be the title, or the first words, or a prominent expression of some other poem, in the style, or to the air of which, this psalm was composed. After the manner, or to the air, of (the song or poem) Death to the son, or the death of the son. Compare 2 Sam. 1:18, where David’s elegy on Saul appears to be called Kesheth or the Bow, because that word is a prominent expression in the composition. As it cannot be supposed that the expression was originally without meaning, the obscurity, in this and many similar cases, is rather a proof of antiquity than of the opposite.

2 (1). I will thank Jehovah, praise him for his benefits, with all my heart, sincerely, cordially, and with a just appreciation of the greatness of his favors. I will recount all thy wonders, the wonderful things done by thee, with special reference to those attested by his own experience. The change from the third to the second person is entirely natural, as if the Psalmist’s warmth of feeling would not suffer him to speak any longer merely of God, as one absent, but compelled him to turn to him, as the immediate object of address. There is no need, therefore, of supplying thee in the first clause, and construing Jehovah as a vocative.

3 (2). I will joy and triumph in thee, not merely in thy presence, or because of thee, i.e. because of what thou hast done, but in communion with thee, and because of my personal interest in thee. The form of the verbs, both here and in the last clause of the preceding verse, expresses strong desire and fixed determination; see above, on Ps. 2:3. I will praise, or celebrate in song; see above, on Ps. 7:18 (17). Thy name, thy manifested excellence; see above, on Ps. 5:12 (11). (Thou) Highest, or Most High! see above, on Ps. 7:18 (17). Here again there is special reference to the proofs of God’s supremacy afforded by his recent dealings with the Psalmist and his enemies.

4 (3). In the turning of my enemies back, i.e. from their assault on me, which is equivalent to saying, in their retreat, their defeat, their disappointment. This may either be connected with what goes before, and understood as a statement of the reason or occasion of the praise there promised: “I will celebrate thy name when (or because) my enemies turn back;” or it may begin a new sentence, and ascribe their defeat to the agency of God himself: “When my enemies turn back (it is because) they are to stumble, and perish from thy presence, from before thee, or at thy presence, i.e. as soon as thou appearest.” The Hebrew preposition has both a causative and local meaning. The form of the verbs does not necessarily imply that the deliverance acknowledged was still future, but only that it might occur again, and that in any such case, whether past or yet to come, Jehovah was and would be the true author of the victory achieved. The act of stumbling implies that of falling as its natural consequence, and is often used in Scripture as a figure for complete and ruinous failure.

5 (4). This was not a matter of precarious expectation, but of certain experience. For thou hast made, done, executed, wrought out, and thereby maintained, my cause and my right. This phrase is always used elsewhere in a favorable sense, and never in the vague one of simply doing justice, whether to the innocent or guilty. See Deut. 10:18; 1 Kings 8:45, 49; Ps. 140:12; and compare Isa. 10:2. And this defense was not merely that of an advocate, but that of a judge, or rather of a sovereign in the exercise of those judicial functions which belong to royalty. See Prov. 20:8. Thou hast sat, and sittest, on a throne, the throne of universal sovereignty, judging right, i.e. rightly, or a judge of righteousness, a righteous judge. See above, on Ps. 7:12 (11). In this august character the Psalmist had already seen Jehovah, and he therefore gives it as a reason for expecting him to act in accordance with it now.

6 (5). The forensic terms of the preceding verse are now explained as denoting the destruction of God’s enemies. Thou hast rebuked nations, not merely individuals, but nations. God’s chastisements are often called rebukes, because in them he speaks by act as clearly as he could by word. Thou hast destroyed a wicked (one), i.e. many a wicked enemy, in former times, in other cases, and that not with a partial ruin, but with complete extermination even of their memory. Their name, that by which men are distinguished and remembered, thou hast blotted out, erased, effaced, obliterated, to perpetuity and eternity, an idiomatic combination, coincident in sense, though not in form, with the English phrase, for ever and ever. This verse does not refer exclusively to any one manifestation of God’s power and wrath, but to the general course of his dealings with his enemies, and especially to their invariable issue, the destruction of the adverse party.

7 (6). The enemy, or as to the enemy, a nominative absolute placed at the beginning of the sentence for the sake of emphasis—finished, completed, are (his) ruins, desolations, for ever, i.e. he is ruined or made desolate for ever. The construction of the first word as a vocative—O enemy, ended are (thy) desolations for ever, i.e. the desolations caused by thee—affords a good sense, but is neither so agreeable to usage nor to the context as the one first given. Still less so are the other versions which have been given of this difficult clause. E.g. The enemies are completely desolate for ever;—the enemies are consumed, (there are) ruins (or desolations) for ever, &c. The address is still to Jehovah, as in the preceding verse. And (their) cities, viz. those of the enemy, hast thou destroyed. According to the second construction above given, this would mean, thou (O enemy) hast destroyed cities, but art now destroyed thyself. The same reasons as before require us to prefer Jehovah as the object of address. Gone, perish, is their very memory. The idiomatic form of the original in this clause cannot be retained in a translation. The nearest approach to it would be, gone is their memory, themselves. This may either mean their memory, viz. (that of) themselves, i.e. their own; or, perished is their memory (and) themselves (with it). There seems to be an obvious allusion to the threatenings against Amalek in the books of Moses (Exod. 17:14; Num. 24:20; Deut. 25:19), which received their literal fulfilment in the conquests of Saul and David (1 Sam. 15:3, 7, 27:8, 9, 30:1, 17; 2 Sam. 8:12; 1 Chron. 4:43). But this is evidently here presented merely as a sample of other conquests over the surrounding nations (2 Sam. 8:11–14), and even these as only samples of the wonders wrought by God for his own people, and celebrated in ver. 2 (1) above.

8 (7). And Jehovah to eternity, for ever, will sit, as he sits now, upon the throne and judgment-seat. He has set up for judgment, for the purpose of acting as a judge, his throne. It is not as an absolute or arbitrary ruler, but as a just judge, that Jehovah reigns. This recognition of God’s judicial character and office as perpetual is intended to prepare the way for an appeal to his righteous intervention in the present case.

9 (8). And he, himself, with emphasis upon the pronoun, is to judge the world, the fruitful and cultivated earth, as the Hebrew word properly denotes, here put for its inhabitants, in justice, or righteousness, i.e. in the exercise of this divine perfection. He will judge, a different Hebrew verb, to which we have no equivalent, he will judge nations, peoples, races, not mere individuals, in equities, in equity, the plural form denoting fulness or completeness, as in Ps. 1:1. As the preceding verse describes Jehovah’s kingship as judicial, so the verse before us represents him in the actual exercise of his judicial functions.

10 (9). And (so) will Jehovah be a high place, out of reach of danger, hence a refuge, for the oppressed, literally the bruised or broken in pieces, a high place, refuge, in times of distress, literally at times in distress, i.e. at times (when men are) in distress. God’s judicial sovereignty is exercised so as to relieve the sufferer and deliver those in danger.

11 (10). And in thee will trust, as now so in all times to come, the knowers of thy name, those who know the former exhibitions of thy greatness and thy goodness, all which are included in the name of God. See ver. 3 (2), and Ps. 8:2 (1), 7:18 (17), ver. 12 (11). For thou hast not forsaken thy seekers, or (those) seeking thee, O Lord, Jehovah, i.e. seeking thy favor in general, and thy protection against their enemies in particular. The certain knowledge of this fact is laid as the foundation of the confidence expressed in the first clause.

12 (11). Sing, make music, give praise by song or music, to Jehovah, as the God of Israel, inhabiting Zion, i.e. the sanctuary there established. Or the words may mean sitting, as a king, enthroned, (in) Zion, which agrees well with the use of the same verbs in ver. 5, 8 (4, 7) above, although the other version is favoured by the obvious allusion to the symbolical import of the sanctuary under the Mosaic law, as teaching the great doctrine of God’s dwelling among men. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4), 5:8 (7). Zion is here represented as the centre of a circle reaching far beyond the house of Israel, and indeed co-extensive with the earth. Tell, declare, make known, in, among, the nations, his exploits, his noble deeds, the wonders mentioned in ver. 2 (1). We have here, in his inspired formula of worship, a clear proof that the ancient church believed and understood the great truth, that the law was to go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, Isa. 2:3, Mic. 4:2.

13 (12). For seeking blood, or as an inquisitor of blood, he has remembered, he remembers, it, i.e. the blood; he has not forgotten the cry of the distressed. God is here revealed in the character which he assumes in Gen. 9:5, where the same verb and noun are used in the first clause of the verse before us. The word translated blood is in the plural form. See above, on Ps. 5:7 (6). Hence the literal translation of the next word is, he has remembered them, i.e. the bloods or murders. The cry meant is the cry of suffering and complaint, with particular reference to Gen. 4:10. According to another reading of the last clause, the cry is that of the meek or humble, not of the distressed. But the common text affords a better sense, and really includes the other, as the innocence of the sufferers is implied, though not expressed. The general import of the verse is that God’s judgments, though deferred, are not abandoned, that he does not forget even what he seems to disregard, and that sooner or later he will certainly appear as an avenger. Murder is here put as the highest crime against the person, for all others, and indeed for wickedness in general.

14 (13). Have mercy upon me, or be gracious to me, O Jehovah, see my suffering from my haters, raising me from the gates of death. The view previously taken of God’s faithfulness and justice is now made the ground of an importunate petition for deliverance from present dangers and distress. My haters, those who hate me. From my haters may be taken as a pregnant construction, meaning, see my suffering (and free me) from my enemies. Thus in 2 Sam. 18:19, “Jehovah hath judged him from the hand of his enemies,” means “hath done him justice (and so freed him) from the power of his enemies.” See a similar expression in Ps. 22:22 (21) below. It seems more natural and obvious, however, in the case before us, to give from a causal meaning. “See my distress (arising) from, or caused by, those who hate me.” Raising me does not denote an accompanying act, as if he had said, see my distress, and at the same time lift me up, &c. It is rather descriptive of a certain divine character or habit, and agrees with the pronoun of the second person understood. “Thou that liftest me up,” that art accustomed so to do, that has done so in other cases, with an implied prayer, do so now. The gates of death may have reference to the image of a subterranean dungeon, from which no prisoner can free himself; or it may be simply a poetical expression for the entrance to the grave or the state of the dead. Compare Isa. 38:10, and Mat. 16:18.

15 (14). That I may recount all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion, may joy in thy salvation. This is one important end for which he asks to be delivered, namely, that God may have the praise of his deliverance. There is a trace, in the Hebrew text, of an original plural form, praises, which might then denote praiseworthy deeds, actions worthy to be celebrated. But the singular form occurs with all in Ps. 106:2 below. The gates here mentioned are contrasted with those of the preceding verse. The God who saves him from the gates of death shall be praised for this deliverance in the gates of the daughter of Zion. This last expression is supposed by some to be a personification of the people inhabiting Zion or Jerusalem, who are then put for Israel at large, as the church or chosen people. Others regard the genitive construction as equivalent to a simple apposition, as in river of Euphrates, or in our familiar phrase, the city of Jerusalem. The personification is then that of the city itself, considered as an ideal virgin, and on that account called daughter, by a usage similar to that of the corresponding word in French. In either case, there is an obvious reference to the ancient church, as the scene or the witness of the Psalmist’s praises. The verb in the last clause may be made to depend upon the particle at the beginning of the verse, (that) I may exult: or it may be still more emphatically construed as an independent proposition, I will exult in thy salvation. The form of the verb is the same as in Ps. 2:3 above. The second verb itself occurs in ver. 11 of that psalm, and as in that case, may either denote an inward emotion or the outward expression of it, I will shout. In thy salvation, i.e. in the possession or experience of it, and in acknowledgment of having thus experienced or possessed it.

16 (15). Sunk are nations in a pit they made; in a net which they hid, taken is their foot. This may be either a confident anticipation of the future as if already past, or a further reference to previous deliverance, as a ground of hope for others yet to come. Nations, whole nations, when opposed to God. Compare Ps. 2:1. The accessory idea of Gentiles, heathen, would be necessarily suggested at the same time to a Hebrew reader. Most versions have the definite forms, the pit, the net; but the indefinite form of the original is equally intelligible in English, and therefore preferable as a more exact translation. The ellipsis of the relative, a pit (which) they made, is common to the Hebrew idiom and our own. The figures are borrowed from ancient modes of hunting. See above, on Ps. 7:16 (15). Their foot, their own foot, not that of the victim whose destruction they intended.

17 (16). Known is Jehovah, or has made himself known. Justice has he done, or judgment has he executed. In the work of his (own) hands ensnared is a wicked (man). Higgaion, meditation. Selah, pause. God has revealed himself as present and attentive, notwithstanding his apparent oblivion and inaction, by doing justice on his enemies, or rather by making them do justice on themselves, converting their devices against others into means of self-destruction. In view of this most striking attestation of God’s providential government, the reader is summoned to reflect, and enabled so to do by a significant and solemn pause. The sense of meditation or reflection is clear from Ps. 19:15 (14), and Lam. 3:62. See below, on Ps. 92:4 (3). The addition of Higgaion to Selah here confirms the explanation already given of the latter word. See above, on Ps. 3:3 (2). With this understanding of the terms, we may well say, to ourselves or others, in view of every signal providential retribution, especially where sin is conspicuously made its own avenger, Higgaion Selah!

18 (17). The wicked shall turn back even to hell, to death, or to the grave, all nations forgetful of God. The enemies of God and of his people shall be not only thwarted and repulsed, but driven to destruction; and that not merely individuals, but nations. For the meaning of Sheol see above, on Ps. 6:6 (5). The figure of turning back, retreating, failing, is the same as in ver. 4 (3) above. The idea expressed is not that of being turned directly into hell, but that of turning back, first to one’s original position, and then beyond it, to the grave or hell. In the last clause there is an allusion to the implied charge of forgetfulness on God’s part in ver. 13 (12) above. He had not forgotten the “poor innocents,” as they feared, and as their enemies believed; but these very enemies had forgotten him, and must now abide the consequences of their own forgetfulness. The future forms of this verse may have reference to the same things mentioned in the verse preceding as already past. It seems more natural, however, to explain them as a confident anticipation of results precisely similar to those which had already been produced by the same causes. As Jehovah had already caused the heathen to become their own destroyers, so he might be expected to renew the same judicial process in another case.

19 (18). For not for ever shall the poor be forgotten, (and) the hope of the humble perish to eternity. However long God may appear to be forgetful of his suffering people, even this seeming oblivion is to have an end. Still another allusion to the charge or imputation of forgetfulness implied in ver. 13 (12) above. The difference between the readings humble and afflicted (ענוים and עניים) is not essential, as the context shews that the humble meant are humble sufferers.
20 (19). Arise, Jehovah! Let not man, frail man, be strong. Let nations, or the heathen, be judged, and as a necessary consequence condemned, before thy face, in thy presence, at thy bar. Here again, as in ver. 13, 14 (12, 13), the expression of strong confidence is made the occasion of an earnest prayer. So far is an implicit trust from leading men to cast off fear and restrain prayer before God. On the exhortation to arise, as from a state of previous inaction, see above, Ps. 3:7 (6). For the full sense of the word translated man, see above, on Ps. 8:5 (4). Let him not be strong, i.e. let him not so appear, or so esteem himself. Let him have no occasion, by indulgence or prolonged impunity, to cherish this delusion, or to practice this imposture. The absurdity of making man the stronger party in this strife with God is so preposterous, that God is summoned to arise for the purpose of exploding it. To be judged, in the case of the wicked, is of course to be condemned. To be judged in God’s presence, or at his tribunal, is of course to be condemned without appeal.

21 (20). Set, place, or join, O Jehovah, fear to them. Let nations know, or then shall nations know, (that) man, not God, (are) they. Selah. God is entreated so to frighten them, that they may become conscious of their own insignificance and weakness. The word translated fear is elsewhere used to signify a razor. Hence some would render the first clause, apply the razor to them, i.e. shave them, in allusion to the oriental feeling with respect to the beard. But this seems far-fetched, and the masoretic reading yields a better sense. The precise import of the first phrase seems to be, set fear as a guard over them (Ps. 141:3), or join it to them as a constant companion. The word translated man is still the same as in the foregoing verse, and was therefore intended to suggest the idea of human frailty, as contrasted with divine omnipotence.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 40–46). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Palm 8

Psalm 8

“For the music director; on the Gittith. A Psalm of David. Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, You who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have established strength Because of Your enemies, To do away with the enemy and the revengeful. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have set in place; What is man that You think of him, And a son of man that You are concerned about him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You have him rule over the works of Your hands; You have put everything under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the animals of the field, The birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8, NASB 2020)

 

This psalm begins and ends with an admiring recognition of God’s manifested excellence, ver. 2 (1) and 10 (9). In the intermediate verses the manifestation is traced, first in the inanimate creation, ver. 3, 4 (2, 3), and then in animated nature, vers. 5–9 (4–8), with particular reference to man’s superiority. This is indeed the main subject of the psalm, the glory of God in nature being only introduced to heighten his goodness to mankind. We have here, therefore, a description of the dignity of human nature, as it was at first, and as it is to be restored in Christ, to whom the descriptive terms may therefore be applied, without forced or fanciful accommodation on the one hand, and without denying the primary generic import of the composition on the other.
1. To the Chief Musician, on (or according to) the Gittith. This word, which reappears in the titles of two other psalms (the eighty-first and eighty-fourth), would seem, from its form, to be the feminine of Gitti, which always means a Gittite or inhabitant of Gath. See Josh. 13:3; 2 Sam. 6:10, 15:18. As David once resided there, and had afterwards much intercourse with the inhabitants, the word may naturally here denote an instrument there invented or in use, or an air, or a style of performance, borrowed from that city. Some prefer, however, to derive it from the primary sense of Gath in Hebrew, which is wine-press, and apply it either to an instrument of that shape, or to a melody or style which usage had connected with the joy of vintage or the pressing of the grapes. Either of these explanations is more probable than that which derives Gittith from the same root with Neginoth in the titles of Ps. 4 and 6, and gives it the same sense, viz. stringed instruments, or the music of stringed instruments. Besides the dubious etymology on which this explanation rests, it is improbable that two such technical terms would have been used to signify precisely the same thing. The only further observation to be made upon this title is, that all the psalms to which it is prefixed are of a joyous character, which agrees well with the supposition that it signifies an air or style of musical performance. The ascription of this Psalm to David, as its author, is fully confirmed by its internal character.
2 (1). Jehovah, our Lord, not of the Psalmist only, but of all men, and especially all Israel, how glorious (is) thy name, thy manifested excellence (see above, Ps. 5:11, 7:17), in all the earth, which gave thy glory, i.e. which glory of thine give or place, above the heavens. The verbal form here used is, in every other place where it occurs, an imperative, and should not therefore, without necessity, be otherwise translated. Thus understood, the clause contains a prayer or wish, that the divine glory may be made still more conspicuous. To give or place glory on an object is an idiomatic phrase repeatedly used elsewhere, to denote the conferring of honor on an inferior. See Num. 27:20; 1 Chron. 29:25; Dan. 11:21. It here is plies that the glory belonging to the frame of nature is not inherent but derivative.
3 (2.) From the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast founded strength. The instinctive admiration of thy works, even by the youngest children, is a strong defense against those who would question thy being or obscure thy glory. The Septuagint version of the last words in this clause, thou hast prepared (or provided) praise, conveys the same idea with a change of form, since it is really the praise or admiration of the child that is described in the original as strength. This version is adopted by Matthew, in his record of our Lord’s reply to the Pharisees, when they complained of the hosannas uttered by the children in the temple (Mat. 21:16). That allusion does not prove that Christ was the primary subject of this psalm, but only that the truth expressed in the words quoted was exemplified in that case. If the Scriptures had already taught that even the unconscious admiration of the infant is a tribute to God’s glory, how much more might children of maturer age be suffered to join in acclamations to his Son. The sense thus put upon the words of David agrees better with the context than the one preferred by some interpreters, viz., that the defense in question is afforded by the structure and progress of the child itself. If this had been intended, he would hardly have said from the mouth, or have confined his subsequent allusions to the splendor of the firmament.—The effect, or rather the legitimate tendency of this spontaneous testimony is to silence enemy and avenger, i.e. to stop the mouths of all malignant railers against God, whose cavils and sophisms are put to shame by the instinctive recognition of God’s being and his glory by the youngest children.
4 (3). When I see thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, an expression borrowed from the habits of men, to whom the fingers are natural organs of contrivance and construction, the moon and the stars which thou hast fixed, or settled in their several spheres. As we constantly associate the sky and sun together, the latter, although not expressly mentioned, may be considered as included in the subject of the first clause. Or the mention of the moon and stars without the sun may be understood to mark this as an evening hymn. There is no ground, however, for referring this psalm to the pastoral period of David’s life, or for doubting that it was composed when he was king.
5 (4). The sentence begun in the preceding verse is here completed. When I see thy heavens, &c., what is man, frail man, as the original word signifies, that thou shouldst remember him, think of him, attend to him, and (any) son of man, or the son of man, as a generic designation of the race, that thou shouldst visit him, i.e. according to the usage of this figure, manifest thyself to him, either in wrath or mercy. See Gen. 18:14, 21:1, Ruth 1:6, &c. Here of course the latter is intended. The scriptural idea of a divine visitation is of something which reveals God’s special presence and activity, whether as a friend or foe. The interrogation in this verse implies a strong negation of man’s worthiness to be thus honored, not in comparison with the material universe, to which he is in truth superior, but with the God whose glory the whole frame of nature was intended to display and does display, even to the least matured and cultivated minds. It was with a view to this comparison, and not for its own sake, or as the main subject of the psalm, that the glory of creation was referred to the foregoing verse.
6 (5). And remove him little from divinity, i.e. from a divine and heavenly, or at least a superhuman state. The Hebrew noun is the common one for God, but being plural in its form, is sometimes used in a more vague and abstract sense, for all conditions of existence higher than our own. 1 Sam. 28:13, Zech. 9:7. Hence it is sometimes rendered angels in the Septuagint, which version, although inexact, is retained in the New Testament (Heb. 2:7), because it sufficiently expresses the idea which was essential to the writer’s argument. The verb in this clause strictly means to make or let one want, to leave deficient. Eccles. 4:8, 6:2. The form here used (that of the future with vav conversive), connects it in the closest manner with the verb of the preceding verse, a construction which may be imperfectly conveyed by the omission of the auxiliary verbs in English. “What is man, that thou shouldst remember him, and visit him, and make him want but little of divinity, and crown him with honor and glory?” The Hebrew order of the last clause is, and (with) honor and glory crown him. These nouns are elsewhere put together to express royal dignity. Ps. 21:1, 6 (5), 45:4 (3), Jer. 22:18, 1 Chron. 29:25. There is an obvious allusion to man’s being made in the image of God, with dominion over the inferior creation. Gen. 1:26, 28; 9:2. This is predicated not of the individual but of the race, which lost its perfection in Adam and recovers it in Christ. Hence the description is pre-eminently true of him, and the application of the words in Heb. 2:7, is entirely legitimate, although it does not make him the exclusive subject of the psalm itself.
7 (6). The same construction is continued through the first clause of this verse. Make him rule, i.e. what is man that thou shouldst make him rule, in, among, and by implication over, the works, the other and inferior creatures, of thy hands. The use of the future form in Hebrew up to this point is dependent on the question and contingent particle (what is man that) in ver. 5 (4). The question being now exhausted or exchanged for a direct affirmation, the past tense is resumed. All, everything, hast thou put under his feet, i.e. subjected to his power. The application of these terms to Christ (1 Cor. 15:27, Eph. 1:22), as the ideal representative of human nature in its restored perfection, is precisely similar to that of the expressions used in the preceding verse.
8 (7). This verse contains a mere specification of the general term all in the verse before it. Sheep, or rather flocks, including sheep and goats, and oxen, as a generic term for larger cattle, and also, not only these domesticated animals, but also, beasts of the field, which always means in Scripture wild beasts (Gen. 2:20, 3:14, 1 Sam. 17:44, Joel 1:20), field being used in such connections to denote, not the cultivated land, but the open, unenclosed, and wilder portions of the country. The whole verse is a general description of all quadrupeds or beasts, whether tame or wild.
9 (8). To complete the cycle of animated nature, the inhabitants of the air and water are now added to those of the earth. Bird of heaven, a collective phrase, denoting the birds of the sky, i.e. those which fly across the visible heavens. The common version, “fowl of the air,” is descriptive of the same objects, but is not a strict translation. And fishes of the sea, and (every thing) passing in, or through, the paths of the sea. Some read without supplying anything, fishes of the sea passing through the paths of the sea. But this weakens the expression, and is also at variance with the form of the original, where passing is a singular. Others construe it with man, who is then described as passing over the sea and ruling its inhabitants. But neither the syntax nor the sense is, on the whole, so natural as that proposed above, which makes this a residuary comprehensive clause, intended to embrace whatever might not be included in the more specific terms by which it is preceded. The dominion thus ascribed to man, as a part of his original prerogative, is not to be confounded with the coercive rule which he still exercises over the inferior creation (Gen. 9:2, James 3:7), although this is really a relic of his pristine state, and at the same time an earnest of his future restoration.
10 (9). Jehovah, our Lord, how glorious is thy name in all the earth, not only made so by the splendor of the skies, but by God’s condescending goodness to mankind. With this new evidence and clearer view of the divine perfection, the Psalmist here comes back to the point from which he started, and closes with a solemn repetition of the theme propounded in the opening sentence.


Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 37–40). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Psalm 7

Psalm 7

“O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me, lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver. O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause, let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust. Selah Arise, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you; over it return on high. The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous— you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts. Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends. I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” (Psalm 7:1–17, ESV)

The Psalmist still prays for deliverance from his enemies, ver. 2, 3 (1, 2), on the ground that he is innocent of that wherewith they charge him, ver. 4–6 (3–5). He prays for justice to himself and on his enemies, as a part of that great judicial process which belongs to God as the universal judge, ver. 7–10 (6–9). He trusts in the divine discrimination between innocence and guilt, ver. 11, 12 (10, 11). He anticipates God’s vengeance on impenitent offenders, ver. 13, 14 (12, 13). He sees them forced to act as self-destroyers, ver. 15–17 (14–16). At the same time he rejoices in God’s mercy to himself, and to the whole class whom he represents, ver. 18 (17).

The penitential tone, which predominated in the sixth psalm, here gives way again to that of self-justification, perhaps because the Psalmist here speaks no longer as an individual, but as the representative of the righteous or God’s people. The two views which he thus takes of himself are perfectly consistent, and should be suffered to interpret one another.

1. Shiggaion, i.e. wandering, error. The noun occurs only here, and in the plural form, Hab. 3:1, but the verb from which it is derived is not uncommon, and is applied by Saul to his own errors with respect to David (1 Sam. 26:21). See also Ps. 119:10, 118. Hence some explain the word here as denoting moral error, sin, and make it descriptive of the subject of the psalm. See above on Ps. 5:1. Still more in accordance with the literal meaning of the root is the opinion that it here denotes the wandering of David at the period when the psalm was probably conceived. In either case, it means a song of wandering or error, which he sang, in the literal sense, or in the secondary one of poetical composition, as Virgil says, I sing the man and arms, i.e. they are the subject of my poem. To the Lord, Jehovah, to whom a large part of the psalm is really addressed. Concerning (or because of) the words of Cush the Benjamite. It is clear from ver. 4–6 (3–5), that the words referred to were calumnious reports or accusations. These may have been uttered by one Cush, a Benjamite, who nowhere else appears in history. But as this very circumstance makes it improbable that he would have been singled out, as the occasion of this psalm, from among so many slanderers, some suppose Cush to be Shimei, who cursed David when he fled from Absalom (2 Sam. 16:5–13). As the psalm, however, seems much better suited to the times of Saul, some suppose Cush, which is properly the Hebrew name of Ethiopia, to be here an enigmatical name applied to Saul himself, in reference to the blackness of his heart, and perhaps to his incorrigible wickedness. See Jer. 13:23, and Amos 9:7. The description Benjamite, is equally appropriate to Saul (1 Sam. 9:1, 2; 16:5, 11) and Shimei, who, indeed, were kinsmen. This explanation of the word Cush is less forced than it might otherwise appear, because enigmatical descriptions of the theme are not infrequent in the titles of the Psalms. See above, on Ps. 5:1, and below, on Ps. 9:1; 22:1; 53:1; 57:1; 60:1.

2 (1). The psalm opens with an expression of strong confidence in God, and a prayer founded on it. O Lord, Jehovah, my God, not merely by creation, but by special covenant, in thee, as such, and therefore in no other, I have trusted, and do still trust. This relation and this trust entitle him to audience and deliverance. Save me from all my persecutors, or pursuers, a term frequently employed in David’s history. See 1 Sam. 24:15 (14); 26:20. By these we are here to understand the whole class of worldly and ungodly men, of which Saul was the type and representative. The all suggests the urgency of the necessity, as a motive to immediate interposition. And extricate me, or deliver me. The primary idea of the verb translated save is that of making room, enlarging. See above, on Ps. 4:2 (1).

3 (2). Lest he tear, like a lion, my soul. The singular form, following the plural in the foregoing verse, may have particular reference to Saul, or to the class of which he was a type, personified as an ideal individual. The imagery of the verse is borrowed from the habits of wild beasts, with which David was familiar from a child. See 1 Sam. 17:34–37. The soul or life is mentioned as the real object of attack, and not as a mere periphrasis for the personal pronoun, as if my soul were equivalent to me. Rending, or breaking the bones, and there is none delivering, or with none to deliver.

4 (3.) He proceeds upon the principle that God will not hear the prayer of the wicked, and that he must hear that of the righteous. He proceeds, therefore, to assert his innocence, not his freedom from all sin, but from that particular offence with which he had been charged. O Lord, Jehovah, my God, as in ver. 2 (1), if I have done this, which follows, or this of which I am accused, referring to "the words of Cush," the calumnies, which gave occasion to the psalm itself. If there is, with emphasis on the verb, which might have been omitted in Hebrew, and is therefore emphatic, if there is indeed, as my accusers say, perverseness, iniquity, in my palms, in the palms of my hands, here mentioned as instruments of evil. The apodosis of the sentence is contained in ver. 6 (5) below.

5 (4). If I have repaid my friend, one at peace with me, evil, and spoiled, plundered, (one) distressing me, acting as my enemy, without a cause. There seems to be an allusion here to the two periods of David’s connection with Saul, that of their friendly intercourse, and that of their open enmity. During neither of these had David been guilty of the sins charged upon him. He had not conspired against Saul while in his service (1 Sam. 22:7, 8), and when persecuted by him he had spared his life (1 Sam. 24:10, 11). Some suppose this last fact to be here referred to, and translate the second clause, yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy. The Hebrew verb is certainly used elsewhere in this sense (2 Sam. 22:20, Ps. 6:5), but its primary meaning seems to be that of stripping or spoiling a conquered enemy. The first construction above given is moreover much more natural, and agrees better with the grammatical dependence of the second verb upon the first.

6 (5). His consciousness of innocence is expressed in the strongest manner by invoking the divine displeasure if the charge can be established. An enemy, or by poetic license, the enemy, whether Saul or the ideal enemy referred to in verse 3 (2), shall pursue, or may pursue, which is equivalent to saying, Let the enemy pursue my soul, the figure being still the same as in verse 3 (2) above, but carried out with more minuteness, and overtake (it), and trample to the earth my life, and my honor in the dust make dwell, i.e. completely prostrate and degrade. Some regard honor as equivalent to soul and life, the intelligent and vital part, which is the glory of man’s constitution. But the analogy of Ps. 3:4 (3) and 4:3 (2) makes it more probable that in this case also there is reference to the Psalmist’s personal and official honor. The allusion, however, is not so much to posthumous disgrace as to present humiliation. All this he imprecates upon himself if really guilty of the charges calumniously brought against him. The solemnity of this appeal to God, as a witness and a judge, is enhanced by the usual pause. Selah.

7 (6). Upon this protestation of his innocence he founds a fresh prayer for protection and deliverance. Arise, arouse thyself, O Lord, Jehovah. See above, on Ps. 3:8 (7). Arise in thine anger, raise thyself, or be exalted, in, i.e. amidst, the ragings of my enemies. The idea because of my enemies is rather implied than expressed. The sense directly intended seems to be that, as his enemies are raging, it is time for God to arise in anger too. As they rage against him, he calls upon God to rise in anger against them. And awake, a still stronger figure than arise, because implying sleep as well as inactivity. Awake unto me, at my call and for my benefit. Judgment hast thou commanded, or ordained. Let that judgment now be executed. He appeals to the general administration of God’s justice, as a ground for expecting it in this one case. As it was part of the divine plan or purpose to do justice, both on friends and foes, here was an opportunity to put it into execution.

8 (7). And the congregation of nations shall surround thee, which in this connection is equivalent to saying, let it surround thee. The most probable sense of these obscure words is, appear in the midst of the nations as their judge. The same connection between God’s judicial government in general and his judicial acts in a particular case, that is implied in the preceding verse, is here embodied in the figure of an oriental king dispensing justice to his subjects in a popular assembly. And above it, the assembly, to the high place, or the height, return thou. This may either mean, return to heaven when the judgment is concluded, or, which seems more natural, Resume thy seat as judge above this great ideal congregation. Above it, thus assembled to receive thee, to the high place, or the judgment-seat, return thou, after so long an absence, previously intimated by the summons to arise and awake. Inaction, sleep, and absence from the judgment-seat, are all bold metaphors for God’s delay to save his people and destroy their enemies.

9 (8). The same thing is now expressed in a direct and formal manner. Jehovah will judge, is to judge, the nations. This is laid down as a certain general proposition, from which the Psalmist draws a special inference in the shape of a petition. Judge me, O Lord, Jehovah! If it be true that God will judge the world, redress all wrong, and punish all iniquity, let him begin with me. Let me share now in the justice which is to be universally administered. Judge me, O Lord, according to my right, and my completeness, or perfection, over me, i.e. according to my innocence which covers and protects me. All such expressions must be qualified and explained by the confession of unworthiness in Ps. 6 and elsewhere, which sufficiently demonstrates that the Psalmist here makes no claim to absolute perfection and innocence, nor to any whatever that is independent of God’s sovereign mercy.

10 (9). Let cease, I pray, the badness of wicked (men). The future has an optative meaning given to it by the Hebrew particle (נָא), which is often rendered now, not as an adverb of time, but of entreaty. Between man and man, it is frequently equivalent to if you please in modern parlance. When addressed to God, it scarcely admits of any other version than I pray. The assonance or paronomasia in the common version, wickedness of the wicked, is not found in the original, where two words, not akin to one another, are employed. The plural form of wicked is also lost or left ambiguous in the common version. And thou wilt confirm, or establish, a righteous (man), and a trier of hearts and reins, constantly used in Scripture for the internal dispositions, (is the) righteous God, or (art thou) O righteous God, which last agrees best with the direct address to God in the preceding clauses. This does not merely mean that God is omniscient, and therefore able thus to try the hearts and reins, but that he actually does it. Here he is specially appealed to, as a judge or umpire between Saul, or "the wicked" whom he represented, and "the righteous," of whom David was the type and champion.

11 (10). My shield (is) upon God. My protection or defense depends on him alone. The figure is the same as in Ps. 3:4 (3) and 5:13 (12). Here again the hope of personal deliverance is founded on a general truth, as to the course of the divine administration. My shield (is) upon God, saving, or who saves, the Savior of the upright, straightforward, or sincere in heart. This is a new indirect assertion of his own integrity and innocence.

12 (11). The second word in the original of this verse may be either a participle or a noun, so that the clause admits of two translations, God (is) a righteous judge, and, God is judging, i.e. judges, the righteous. The first would be a repetition of the general truth taught in ver. 9 (8) above, but here applied to the punishment of the wicked, as it is there to the salvation of the innocent. According to the other construction, the verse before us presents both ideas: God judges the righteous, i.e. does him justice, and God is angry every day. The object of this anger, although not expressed, is obvious, and is even rendered more conspicuous by this omission. As if he had said, "God, who does justice to the righteous, has likewise objects for his indignation."

13 (12). If he, the sinner at whom God is angry, will not turn, i.e. turn back from his impious and rebellious undertakings, his sword he will whet, i.e. with a natural though sudden change of subject, God will whet his sword, often referred to as an instrument of vengeance. His bow he has trodden on, alluding to the ancient mode of bending the large and heavy bows used in battle, and made it ready. The bow and the sword were the most common weapons used in ancient warfare. The past tense of these verbs implies that the instruments of vengeance are prepared already, and not merely viewed as something future.

14 (13). And at him (the wicked enemy) he has aimed, or directed, the instruments of death, his deadly weapons. This is still another step in advance. The weapons are not only ready for him, but aimed at him. His arrows to (be) burning he will make, i.e. he will make his arrows burning arrows, in allusion to the ancient military custom of shooting ignited darts or arrows into besieged towns, for the purpose of setting them on fire, as well as that of personal injury. The figurative terms in these two verses all express the certainty and promptness of the divine judgments on incorrigible sinners. For even these denunciations are not absolute, but suspended on the enemy’s repentance or persistency in evil. That significant phrase, if he will not turn, may be tacitly supplied as qualifying every threatening in the book, however strong and unconditional in its expressions.

15 (14). Behold, he, the wicked man, will writhe, or travail (with) iniquity, (towards others), and conceive mischief (to himself), and bring forth falsehood, self-deception, disappointment. The meaning seems to be, that while bringing his malignant schemes to maturity, he will unconsciously conceive and bring forth ruin to himself.

16 (15) The same idea is then expressed by other figures, borrowed perhaps from certain ancient modes of hunting. A well he has digged, i.e. a pitfall for his enemy, and hollowed it, or made it deep, and fallen into the pit he is making, or about to make. The change from the past tense to the future seems to place the catastrophe between the inception and completion of the plan. The translation of the last verb as a simple preterite is entirely ungrammatical.

17 (16). Still a third variation of the same theme. His mischief shall return upon his own head, literally into it, like a falling body which not only rests upon an object, but sinks and is imbedded in it. And on his own crown his violence, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty, shall come down.

18 (17). While the wicked enemy of God and his people is thus made to execute the sentence on himself, the Psalmist already exults in the experience of God’s saving mercy. I will praise the Lord, Jehovah, i.e. acknowledge his favors. See above, on Ps. 6:6 (5). According to his right, desert, or due, as in ver. 9 (8) above. Or according to his righteousness, his justice, i.e. the praise shall correspond to the display just made of this attribute, as well in the deliverance of the Psalmist as in the destruction of his enemies. And I will sing praise, praise by singing, praise in song, the name, the manifested excellence (see above, on Ps. 5:12 (11),) of the Lord, Jehovah, High or Most High. He will praise the Lord in this exalted character as manifested by his dealings in the case which gave occasion to the psalm. The resolution thus expressed may be considered as fulfilled in the psalm itself, so confident is he that it cannot be performed before his prayer is answered. Or the words may be understood as engaging to continue these acknowledgments hereafter.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained. Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)


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